Red Team Blues by Cory Doctorow (book review).

‘Red Team Blues’ by Cory Doctorow is a standalone near-future science fiction techno-thriller. Martin Hench, a 67-year-old freelance forensic accountant, has just been paid well for a successful job when he receives a call for help from Danny Lazer, head of Trustlesscoin. Danny’s keys, which can access a computer enclave holding the firm’s cryptocurrency, have been stolen. A billion dollars can be stolen without a trace, meaning the end of the firm and any legacy Danny can leave his wife. Worse, he needs to get the keys back discreetly to avoid panicking the market. Since Danny is such a nice chap, Martin agrees to take on the case.

Martin begins at the freight warehouse where the air-gapped computer with the keys on it was stolen. He checks their security measures, noting that it only takes one weakness to break in. They are solid against outside attacks, but the inside man, Ales Kocourek, is missing along with his girlfriend.

Conducting a media search for both, Martin tries to find places where they could have run to ground. He identifies a likely hiding place and drives to a lake house in a burnt-out area of California. There, he finds their tortured bodies and more mystery to be solved. This is only the beginning of Martin’s troubles.

In a techno-thriller like this, inevitable explanations of how the tech functions and its impact on the storyline are necessary. Cory Doctorow manages to blend them nicely into the story, making them easy to follow. However, he falls short in the use of acronyms. It is natural for his viewpoint character, Martin, to use them, but it is the author’s responsibility to explain the less common ones. In the first four pages alone, there are eight acronyms: DM, UUCP, NSA, LLC, RV, PA, PDP-8, and CPI. This can be frustrating.

Once this hurdle is overcome, ‘Red Team Blues’ transforms into a rare, interesting, and realistic techno-thriller. The technology is advanced, but the human condition is down-to-earth, full of natural failings, desires, and, when the occasion arises in the story, squalor.

Simultaneously, Doctorow manages to add a touch of the fantastical to Martin’s character. He often reminded me of 007 but without the unbelievable or the espionage elements. Yet, Martin never sees himself as the hero.

As for the thriller aspect, the body count is respectable. The womanizing is driven by character, not the other way around. The various chases, counter-chases, and surprise ploys satisfy the need for excitement in abundance. The novel is fast-paced, except where Martin is lulled into a false sense of security.

Despite its short length, the novel packs a lot of punch and delivers well above its paperweight.

Overall, ‘Red Team Blues’ is a good cyber-human thriller set in an all too possible real future. Readers should be scared by its message of how easily things can go wrong because of cyber-crimes.

Rosie Oliver

April 2023

(pub: Head Of Zeus Ltd, 2023. 212 page hardback. Price: £20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-80454-775-5)

check out website: www.headofzeus.com

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