Invasion Of Privacy
A novel by Christopher Reich
Book review by Jules Brenner
Doubleday, released 6/16/15, 384 pp., $27.95
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In his harrowing billionaire-mad-scientist spy thriller, author Reich creates a villain who is on the cutting edge of digital technology. This malevolent individual harnesses recent front page news: the bulk collection of data in huge amounts, aka "metadata." Reich expands the real-world practice by the NSA to include wiretaps and a psychopath behind it.

Reich isn't alone in recognizing the fictional possibilities such tech advancement suggests -- robotics, gigantic servers, iphones that would once have been considered supercomputers, etc. It's no great leap for dramatic purposes, then, to weaponize such tools to be misused by those who might have world domination in mind. The concept pf a universal surveillance system is red meat for the criminal spy genre and Reich puts it to suspenseful use.

The person who should be the hero of this yarn is FBI Special Agent Joe Grant, a brave, persistent chaser of criminal demons who has caught wind of politically connected internet magnate Ian Prince's development of supercomputer Titan. But before Joe can acquire the evidence to prove malicious intentions and ruthless misdeeds, things go haywire for him.

The story begins with Joe and a fellow agent in a high state of agitation on the grounds of a former ranch in Dripping Springs, twenty-five miles outside Austin, Texas. They are at the climactic stage of their case and nervously waiting for said evidence to arrive in the form of a confidential informant from inside Prince's company.

But, just as the informant's wheels enter the ranch grounds, anxiety turns to mayhem when they're attacked by a sniper who had been lying in wait. Having seen it coming seconds before being shot, Joe calls his wife Mary and leaves a voice mail of lost hope -- a cryptic one that only she will understand.

When she finally gets around to listening to Joe's message on a particularly busy day tending to her daughters -- argumentative Grace, the elder, and sweet, cancer-stricken Jessie -- FBI agent Don Bennett, head of the Austin office, is calling her to the hospital where Joe, a bullet in his chest, breathes his last. Devastated and confused about Joe's having been in a situation he swore never to be in again for the sake of their family, she tries to play the message again. But it's gone. Deleted with no trace. Irretrievable.

As Mary realizes that the agency is setting up a false cover story for the press and the public, she sets forth upon a mission to uncover the truth of what happened that day... to her husband! Who was involved and to what purpose? She will soon find that investigating the people connected to this tragedy puts her in a life or death confrontation with the source of her loss. But her independent investigation and you-don't-lie-about-MY-husband conviction places her, Jessie and Grace in an unbelievably treacherous world of death and betrayal.

I had my doubts about Mary becoming sufficiently engaging in the central role, with her kids and the dog, with being a mom, with the duplicity of the agency which all but scorns her and her probing. Not a picture of a person to fight the most ominous corporation in the world.

But Reich pulls off this novel about the misuse of power, driving it with power in the writing. Artfully constructed, the skillful narrative is spare and always relevant. It gets my strong recommendation as the best I've read by Reich even if the idea feels a little derivative.

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