The Devil's Code
A couple of things occurred to me as I sat down to write this review. First of all, (and this is something you’ll notice very quickly) the review is going to be primarily about plot. There isn’t much I can do about that because the book is all about plot, which kind of goes with the techno-thriller territory I guess. The second thing is that I should have put the Mission Impossible soundtrack on the CD player because that’s the music that kept running through my head while I read this. Or was that the James Bond theme? It doesn’t matter because both fit the tone of Sandford’s latest thriller.
Kidd is an artist/professional criminal who specializes in computer theft. He’s also a pretty decent guy, which sometimes leads him into Robin Hood territory. When Lane Ward approaches him for help in discovering why her brother, Jack Morrison, was killed, Kidd is unwillingly drawn into a complicated, dangerous mess. Jack was a computer programmer/hacker who once helped Kidd out. Jack has supposedly been killed while trying to steal company secrets from the high tech Texas corporation for whom he was working. Lane doesn’t believe the story she’s been given and neither does Kidd.
Though Kidd is at first reluctant to get involved, he soon has a more personal reason. His online code name has been linked to a supposed radical hacker group called Firewall. Members of the group have been accused of sabotaging IRS computer systems and are alleged to be planning more attacks because of the Fed’s proposed Clipper II project. Clipper II was what the AmMath, the Texas firm, was working on for the government and Kidd has to figure out what the connections are between Firewall and Morrison and how he can keep them from biting him in the ass.
Kidd and his cohorts are ciphers. Kidd’s an artist who uses his computer skills to augment his income with occasional illegal forays. He’s been assisted in the past by his burglar friend LuEllen and she makes her own enigmatic appearance in The Devil’s Code. Her assistance in getting Kidd into the AmMath offices and anywhere else he needs to be is invaluable but that’s her only real purpose: a fact that is true of every character in the book. John Sandford is following the tradition of the pulp novels of 40’s in giving the reader a very spare knowledge of his characters. These people come in, play their part, and leave.
Bare bones character development is not always a bad thing. This is a complicated plot and there isn’t a whole lot of room or time to delve into these people’s lives. They’re very busy saving the world or some small part of it. But slim characterization in a protagonist and the villain he opposes is a bad thing. Kidd has such a wry, matter-of-fact presence in the book that his detachment begins to seep into the reader. If he isn’t all that concerned then why should the reader care?
The plot deals with encryption of computer messages and how well the CIA, FBI and NSA are going to be able to do their jobs in the near future, so the subject matter is quite timely. You may want to read it for that, and the fast-paced maneuverings of Kidd and LuEllen. Since I wanted to know more about Kidd and LuEllen I was disappointed to find this so plot driven. If you do like plot driven techno-thrillers, you could do worse. A suggestion: Be sure to pop that soundtrack into the CD player before you start.