Book Review: The Screen Conspiracy by @Coreandor

The Screen Conspiracy by Maxwell Black – 3 stars

Washington where nothing is what it seems. Not knowing that can cost you your life.

True, middle-aged Jack Halpin knew little of the internet, neither its potential nor its danger. Notwithstanding that, how could he possibly have foreseen the impact it would have on his life?

Once an up and coming senior executive, Jack is on a downward career and personal trajectory. His beliefs and all the vestiges of his career and privileged family life are challenged as he is submerged in a dangerous world for which he is ill prepared. A member of the Fairfax Gun Club, Jack is a traditionalist who believes in the right to bear arms, law and order. He has a strained relationship with his wife Poppy, the daughter of respected Senator Jock Kessles, a man who is deeply disappointed in his unsuccessful son-in-law.

Unknown to Jack, the mysterious death of a senator is the signature tune to a traumatic change in his world and everything he has taken for granted. Surviving the onslaught of rapid, life or death challenges and the sinister forces facing him, will require all his resolve. This journey will bring him face to face with murder, political intrigue, depravity and betrayal.

The answer to Jack’s dilemma lies somewhere in the internet. If he is to survive, he will first need to uncover a conspiracy which runs right to the heart of the Senate. Then he needs to figure out what to do with that knowledge which has left a trail of murders in its wake.

How could a life, so ordinary, turn so quickly?

If I could do half stars, I would actually give this book 3.5. I suspect it plays better to a British or European audience than to an American one, as it feels a little out of touch with its setting and protagonists. Overall, it’s a decent thriller with some good action sequences in the second half, though it does start slow.

The protagonist is an anachronism, an older gentleman who’s lost in the things the kids these days are doing and into. He’s thrown into the world of computers without a clue how to use them. It’s cute, in a way, and can be seen as a broader statement about how the whole book is a situation he’s unfamiliar and unprepared for, as well as a cry in the dark for those who feel overwhelmed by the press of technology.

The underlying plot centers around the use of technology as a weapon for those who see the ends justifying the means. Unfortunately, the ends pursued don’t strictly make sense. Either that, or the explanation didn’t make sense. I had a hard time accepting what the bad guys were trying to accomplish, as it’s not actually plausible (either that, or the wrong terms were used, or maybe it just wasn’t explained very well). Without spoiling it, the matter revolves around the US Constitution (the document, not the ship), and it seems I know it better than the author does. Beyond that, the conspiracy feels a bit silly and ponderous in post-Snowden times.

There’s also a minor thread that’s strictly anti-pornography (all types), which turned me off as being ridiculously prudish. Further, there’s a statement against gun control that lacks any sense of nuance until some cryptically confused comments leave one wondering if the author wasn’t so sure he wanted to talk about that after all.

A few little things make me fairly certain the writer is British, which is fine. I read books by British authors all the time, and have no problem with that. However, it’s jarring when the subject matter is US government, and pursued by an American protagonist. It’s not blatant, there are no lorries or lifts, just a little dash here and there – just enough to seem out of place.

I liked the Tibbs and Masters characters, they’re well done. It’s kind of a shame they aren’t the stars of the show because I think they would have carried it better.

If you like thrillers, you’ll probably like this one as a popcorn read. I wasn’t turned off by it, I just wasn’t wowed by it, either.

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