Epeolatry Book Review: Red Team Blues by Cory Doctorow

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Title: Red Team Blues
Author: Scott Harper
Publisher:  Tor Books
Genre: Science Fiction, Technothriller
Release Date: 25th April, 2023

Synopsis: New York Times bestseller Cory Doctorow’s Red Team Blues is a grabby next-Tuesday thriller about cryptocurrency shenanigans that will awaken you to how the world really works.

Martin Hench is 67 years old, single, and successful in a career stretching back to the beginnings of Silicon Valley. He lives and roams California in a very comfortable fully-furnished touring bus, The Unsalted Hash, that he bought years ago from a fading rock star. He knows his way around good food and fine drink. He likes intelligent women, and they like him back often enough.

Martin is a—contain your excitement—self-employed forensic accountant, a veteran of the long guerilla war between people who want to hide money, and people who want to find it. He knows computer hardware and software alike, including the ins and outs of high-end databases and the kinds of spreadsheets that are designed to conceal rather than reveal. He’s as comfortable with social media as people a quarter his age, and he’s a world-level expert on the kind of international money-laundering and shell-company chicanery used by Fortune 500 companies, mid-divorce billionaires, and international drug gangs alike. He also knows the Valley like the back of his hand, all the secret histories of charismatic company founders and Sand Hill Road VCs. Because he was there at all the beginnings. He’s not famous, except to the people who matter. He’s made some pretty powerful people happy in his time, and he’s been paid pretty well. It’s been a good life.

Now he’s been roped into a job that’s more dangerous than anything he’s ever agreed to before—and it will take every ounce of his skill to get out alive.

Clocking in at 224 pages, this is in the novella territory. It has the whiff of a Silicon Valley Raymond Chandler as we see the first-person narrator, Martin, take on a series of tech cases.

At first the book might feel episodic, but I came to see it like a season of an entertaining HBO/Netflix as a longer story arc gradually emerges and comes to a satisfying conclusion.

I was particularly taken with how Martin uses a team of social media whizz kids to work within the parameters he sets to generate leads. It’s almost private eye by project management and I consider it a more realistic alternative to other geriaction thrillers.

There are wonderfully barbed observations about Silicon Valley, and Cory Doctorow expresses various interesting concerns about cryptocurrency.

The publisher describes this as an immediate future novel. In some respects, the real-life antics of Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX and, less recently, Ruja Ignatova, might make the potential reader feel like they already have wild tales of cryptocurrency behaviour. As fun and entertaining as this novel is (and it definitely is), it’s kind of hard to out-do the real craziness in the crypto world though the author clearly knows his stuff (evident if you follow him on social media).

My only fear is that, as is the risk with immediate-future fiction, it’s been overtaken by events.

Aside from tech insights, Doctorow’s trick is to show the psychology of the typical protagonists and wrap it up in an entertaining thriller bow.

Martin is an endearingly flawed character (I’d possibly cast a slightly older Will Arnott) and I did find myself screaming at him; he felt believable.

In my experience of cyber-thrillers, a refreshing change comes with an older protagonist, especially one who, like Martin, is still learning about himself.

I would say though that the first-person narrator, while giving us a short cut into Martin’s head, means that Martin is highly likely to survive the book. Refreshingly, Doctorow plays with this by making us realise that we don’t know exactly what state Martin will be in by story’s end.

A solid read with laugh out loud moments, this novel can be enjoyed by techies and non-techies alike.

/5

Available from Amazon and Bookshop.

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