Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Surveillance - Reece Hirsch

First line: "The day that Bruen & Associates opened for business was one of the best days of Chris Bruen's life–until the first client walked through the door."

In Reece Hirsch's third book featuring protagonist, Chris Bruen, the privacy lawyer is launching his own business with his significant other, computer forensics specialist Zoey Doucet. What should be a monumental day in both characters' lives turns into the stuff nightmares are made of.

The clients most likely to hire Bruen aren't the type to walk in off the street, but just after opening the doors at Howard Street in San Francisco on the very first day of business, just such a client arrives:

Chris was instantly skeptical that this would amount to anything. One of the occupational hazards of being a privacy lawyer was that you occasionally had to field calls from random paranoids who found your name linked to the world 'privacy' in their Google search results. Sometimes the issues were legitimate, but more often the matter was better addressed by an adjustment in medication or adding another layer of aluminum foil to a hat lining.

Ian Ayres is a former hacker who now owns a penetration-testing and ethical-hacking service. His extreme paranoia–he wants to talk to Bruen outside his office–immediately puts Bruen on alert. Ayres explains that while doing a penetration testing job for a communications company he discovered a government agency downloading terabytes worth of call metadata. When he reported his findings to the client, they acted as though they never hired him and accused him of hacking their system. The contract Ayres had even vanished. Ayres is certain it isn't the NSA; he says he knows how they work. Instead, he theorizes that he's uncovered a secret agency no one is supposed to know about. And now people are after him.

Bruen is unsure whether he believes Ayres or not, but he knows for certain this isn't the type of case his firm handles. So he offers to give Ayres some recommendations. But when they return to the office, Bruen finds his entire staff–save Zoey–have been murdered. Now this secret agency isn't just after Ayres, Bruen is in their cross-hairs as well.

As the two men waste no time getting out of the office and on the run from their pursuers, Bruen calls Zoey, who had been out of the office for coffee, and advises her to go into hiding with an old hacker acquaintance of hers.  The three set off in their respective directions, none of them knowing this is only the beginning of a terrifying ordeal, a modern-day David and Goliath. But do they have a sling shot mighty enough to bring down this unidentifiable Goliath of a government organization?

In the current climate of Edward Snowden, personal privacy and national security debates–a climate that also created a significant debate around Apple's refusal to help unlock an accused terrorist's phone–Surveillance is timely and more than a little disturbing. Hirsch will have readers thinking about their Google searches, phone calls, Skype chats, even library loans–or conversations in their cars, "It occurred to him that an operative with a laser microphone could eavesdrop on his conversation by using the sound vibrations on the car window glass." They're also likely to be far more cognizant of security cameras than they've been before. The reach of the government agencies and their current technologies is complex and significant. And the belief that you aren't doing anything wrong won't be a comfort during this thriller:

'So maybe it's kind of a variation on the Heisenberg principle. Maybe the NSA isn't trying to spy on its citizens so much as it's trying to keep them in line. Maybe the point of observation is to change behavior.'

Hirsch keeps the pace moving quick and fluidly. Short chapters and high intensity suspense propel the plot.  The crafty imagery compliments the subject matter well:

He felt like one of those smartphones that's a couple of generations behind the latest model. It still works, but the battery doesn't hold a charge the way it use to, the software's a bit glitchy–it'll never function again the way it did when it was new.

And Hirsch also manages to sneak some wit into the dark depths of this technological thriller. The Amish way of life may look a little more appealing at the end of Surveillance. Stock up on the tinfoil, folks, the eyes and ears are everywhere.

Surveillance is available in paperback (ISBN: 978-1503933231) from Thomas & Mercer. It's also available as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 978-1511365994) narrated by David de Vries from Brilliance Audio.

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