Doubleday | 2018 (23 July) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book
The world watches as drones, armed with cameras and streaming live, lay siege to the President of the United States as he plays golf. As he runs to his car, his team floundering around him, the most powerful man in the world is profoundly humiliated. This is the work of Zero, an anonymous organisation that aims to expose the extent to which companies know everything about us, how we’re constantly spied upon as we go about our private business, how we’re in thrall to social media apps, and how our data is priceless to those who watch us.
Cynthia is a journalist who is picked to investigate Zero but, before she starts, her daughter is a witness to the murder of a good friend. He was wearing an immersive eye set, lent to him by Cynthia, that encouraged him to pursue a criminal that it had recognised with its face recognition software. It’s then that Cynthia learns about Freemee, a competitor to Facebook, that seeks to manipulate the lives of its users by altering every aspect of their behaviour so that they can fulfil their potential. And then another of Cynthia’s daughter’s friends, an IT genius, is killed, but not before he told Cynthia that there was something he had to tell her…
Zero is one of those social media thrillers that rings all too true. Although Freemee is a fictional company, its close resemblance to Facebook shows how plausible its power could be, while the activity of Zero is sufficiently reminiscent to Anonymous to feel that the events of the novel could be just around the corner.
The thriller takes us on a breathless pursuit of Freemee across the globe with Cynthia taken deeper and deeper out of her depth and into great personal danger. But it isn’t a simple game of cat and mouse, not least because there is more than one mouse to chase, while the President of the United States has an axe to grind and is set on vengeance.
Zero‘s plot is complicated at times and I must admit that its technospeak did leave me baffled now and then, while I also found its characters a little cold and difficult to engage with. This isn’t helped by the translation from German into English which I did fine rather clunky at times. Nevertheless, Zero is a solid thriller with an intriguing and topical premise (and a brilliant opening chapter), and a good follow up to Marc Elsberg’s earlier stand alone technothriller Blackout.