What the blurb says: “A bomb goes off in downtown San Francisco. Twelve people are dead. But this is no ordinary target. This target exists on the fault line where sex and money meet. Daniel Madsen is one of a new breed of federal agents armed with a badge, a gun and the Bureau’s latest technological weapon. He’s a fast operator and his instructions are simple: find the bomber – before he strikes again. In order to understand what is at stake, Madsen must plunge into a sleazy, unsettling world where reality and fantasy are indistinguishable, exploitation is business as usual, and the dead hand of corruption reaches all the way to the top. There’s too much money involved for this investigation to stay private …”
Bruce McCabe has created a darkly fascinating future world. It’s similar to the world as we know it, but with many elements taken to technology-enabled extremes. Like the hand-held lie detectors that allow FBI ‘plotters’ to determine the truth of a crime at faster rates than ever before, and the new, utterly lifelike sex dolls – ‘skinjobs’ – that look, feel and act like real people (although, creepily, can’t speak), and the dramatic rise in politically active religions lobbying against their use. It’s a world where secrets are outlawed, and good law officers can lose their jobs at the beep of a device. And, as a result of this new technology, careers and fortunes can be made and lost at an increasingly rapid rate.
‘Plotter’ Daniel Madsen is part of the new world. He’s hard-working to the point of extreme, super-smart, and determined to find the truth and get justice in all the cases he works. When he’s called in to work with the local cops after a bomb goes off in one of the ‘dollhouses’ – a place men can go to have sex with dolls – he approaches the case as he would any other. But this one is different. The forensic evidence doesn’t tie up with the CCTV footage. Under increasing pressure to generate leads and suspects, Daniel works around the clock trying to unravel the truth. But there is more to this case that first appears, and some very powerful people whose reputations (and fortunes) will rise or fall on the outcome.
But the story isn’t just about technology. As well as Daniel’s quest for the truth, what makes the story even more human is the internal conflict of Shari Sanayei, local PD Viddy Ops specialist (video surveillance), who is in charge of analysing the CCTV footage, and has to watch the police officer she was having a secret affair with enter the building where the bomb detonated just moments before it happened. If she declares the relationship, she’ll be removed from the case, and she doesn’t want that. Not only is she the best at viddy ops, she’s also determined to bring her lover’s killer to justice. Even if withholding their affair costs her the job she loves.
This is one of the best techno-thrillers I’ve read. Filled with intrigue and high on action it pulls you into an artfully crafted future world and has you follow Daniel Madsen as he searches for the person responsible for the bombing. With a cast of interesting characters, and the puzzle of evidence that doesn’t make sense, it had me trying to guess the killer’s identity all the way through and still managed to pack a great twist at the end.
Reminiscent of the great Michael Crichton, this is a techno-thriller with heart. A great read, a cracking high-adrenalin story, and a future world to make you think a little more about just where technology might lead us.
[Many thanks to Corgi for my copy of SKINJOB]