Debra Purdy Kong
Gypsy Moon Press, 2008
380 pages, Mystery
2 out of 5 stars
Fatal Encryption by Debra Purdy Kong opens with an intriguing Halloween night murder but never becomes the tense, high-stakes thriller that it wants to be. The story centers around Alex Bellamy, a depressing, 20ish IT guy with an annoying girlfriend who finds himself in the middle of a corporate murder mystery filled with weak characters that are unbelievably open and direct. The book’s title and premise would lead one to believe that this will be an exciting cyber-thriller where the hero is chasing the villain through an electronic maze filled with active attacks, derfs, fishbowling, Trojan Horses, and dark-side hackers. But this is not the world where we go.
Instead Kong takes us into a rude world of bitter office politics populated by superficial characters with petty squabbles that distract from what could have been a sexy murder mystery with a cyber twist. The characters are introduced and developed through gossip and dialogue instead of action. Motivated almost entirely by jealousy and rejection, this dull cast of characters leaves us almost no one to root for – even the protagonist has few redeeming qualities – and we end up cheering against all of them. Alex is the stereotypical IT guru: rude, annoyed, condescending and bitter.
The strength of the book is definitely in its cyber-talk. It seemed to come alive whenever Alex described the intricacies of a cyber-attack and although Kong seems to be writing what she knows, the story hardly ever goes here. Instead it revolves around Alex’s quest to catch the bad guys before the cops do. He seems to be living his life to please his family but except for an array of attractive young females we never really know what else he wants. What is he really trying to solve? What psychological hurdle is he trying to overcome?
He is not portrayed as a smart person. He is continuously unemployed, behind on his bills and decides to pay his partner out of his own salary. That’s the act of an incredibly generous person or one who is completely thoughtless. The case is not pieced together by his cunning detective work but by the immature outbursts of the angry and jealous supporting characters, all of whom seem at one time to complain about “being treated like”….well, you know.
Kong is an ok writer but the storytelling needs work. The story takes too long to unfold and the resolution is less than satisfying. With characters that are almost indistinguishable, the book suffered from having too many of them. Written almost entirely in dialogue, the supporting prose and descriptions border on mundane. Phrases like, “dread slithered down Alex’s back” do not conjure the emotional feeling they intend to. The climax has a few twists but no surprises as we can predict where Alex will end up.
Strengths: high-stakes, interesting premise
Opportunities: too many characters, too long, dull
Will appeal to: mystery readers, light readers
Reviewed by Mark McGinty, June 2009