I like a good technological thriller and fortunately ‘Darknet’ falls right into that category. It mixes together the world of high finance and computer science to create a new kind of monster to threaten the human world. I quite liked the fact that this monster is not out to either destroy the world or rule it but rather it is slavishly following a categorical imperative to make money. Of course we all know that money is the root of all evil, even for computer programs, so there is going to be some friction and not a little violence along the way.
Taking stock elements of the genre Matthew Mather propels the story at a good pace with a little deviation towards way points for plot development. The hero, Jake, becomes persecuted, isolated, and rendered almost helpless by a nemesis that exists for the most part behind the scenes. Spending most of the novel off balance he tends to lurch from one incident to another before getting a grasp of the situation and fighting back.
Darknet could have been a great read but to be honest I did not find any of the characters that engaging. Yes, I wanted Jake to win but not for his sake. He was an okay character, got off to a bad start in life and then made things better but he just lacked depth for me. Perhaps that is because his saving graces were so normal; a good husband, a good father, a good friend, a slightly not so good brother and maybe not the best son to a father who did not seem to deserve or want him anyway. His fascination with psychopaths was not a redeeming feature even if it did come in useful.
All the other characters seemed to be of the same mould, essentially good unless cast as one of the bad guys. None of them were too deep and insights into their history were more like vignettes rather than character developments. This does seem to be normal fare for this genre, however. It is not really a negative either, more of an area that could have been further developed so that I, as the reader, actually cared more about what happened to them.
This lack of character development also impinged somewhat on what could have been the most interesting protagonist in the book, however, the cause of everyone’s problems and not a little murder to boot. The computer program was not exactly artificial intelligence, more a system able to analyse a huge reservoir of data and extrapolate its opponent’s next move. It was not fighting to survive but rather to pursue its categorical imperative; to make money. Despite being able to create personas that could pass under minimal scrutiny for real humans the genius behind all of this remained almost entirely beyond the reader’s vision. This was a shame as I found it to be an intriguing idea. I would have liked to have known more about it but not through reading the various articles appended to the end of the book; rather I would have liked the author to have done more with it.
There were some other aspects of the story that I did not quite find plausible or required further explanation of but found little coming, such as how the Assassin Market would actually work but these are just technical niggles I suppose.
Ultimately I really enjoyed reading ‘Darknet’. The premise was original and interesting and the action moved along at a brisk pace. A little more originality regarding the characters and their motivations would have made this a great book, I do not doubt, but even having said that it still remains one of the most entertaining reads I have had lately.