“Who I really am is the person that exists online.”
Last year I arrived late to the Jack Parlabane series from Christopher Brookmyre with Black Widow, the seventh in the series. The series has followed the trials and tribulations of investigative reporter Parlabane, and in Black Widow Parlabane’s career is in the toilet. In The Last Hack, Parlabane, whose personal life is non existent, is hoping to revive his career. This thriller/crime novel presciently tackles hacktivism and corporate malfeasance.
The Last Hack is partly the story of a young girl named Samantha Morpeth who, following the incarceration of her mother, is forced by circumstances to care for and support her sister, Lilly, who has Down’s Syndrome. Samantha is a powerless young girl whose life-path has been dictated by her drug addicted mother. Living in poverty, bullied at school, rejected by the government agencies that are supposed to help her, Samantha is prey to her mother’s dealers who loot her home to make up for lost payment. It’s no wonder that Samantha, who is so powerless in life should turn to the internet to reverse her lowly position.
After Parlabane comes up with a story on hacktivism of a major bank, he is hired by Broadwave, “a burgeoning cross-media entity that has evolved from a completely new perspective upon news and technology.” Chances are he would have been passed over for the job were it not for his inside scoop from a hacktivist named Buzzkill. But when Buzzkill ends up in trouble, the hacker turns to Parlabane for help. The job with Broadwave offers Parlabane a chance to get his career back on track but helping the hacker may jeopardize everything he stands to gain.
Unfortunately the plot of The Last Hack is quite convoluted. The book starts with a short prologue in which someone is “suffering the after-effects” of an electroshock device, and then the novel shifts to Samantha Morpeth who is sitting in a waiting room of a government agency. Then comes a section with someone calling around to a few different employees at the RSGN Bank. Then we switch back to Parlabane interviewing with Broadwave, and then it’s an internet chat between hackers. This is a group of hackvists known as Uninvited, and their next hack, against a major bank, is organised over chat. The chat is difficult to follow–not only the abbreviated computer-speak exchanges but again it’s a handful of characters who exist in cyberspace and have no other grounding. These strands connect, of course, but it takes an overly long time to connect the dots.
Free-floating prologues seem popular these days but when they’re followed by other seemingly unconnected strands, the book, instead of pulling the reader in, keeps the reader dancing on the periphery wondering what the hell is going on. With the various strands packing the beginning of the book, it took me about 1/5 of the way through before I had a handle on what was happening. Once I got through the first 1/5, the plot took off. Of the two Parlabane novels I’ve read, I much preferred Black Widow.