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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Circumference of Darkness by Jack Henderson (Bantam) In 1993, a legendary hacker known only as 'phr33k" outlined a far-fetched plan for the ultimate terrorist attack, in a members-only online chat room. Eight years later, he awoke on September 11, 2001 to see the World Trade Center in flames and his casual brainstorm materializing into a murderous reality.

Among the injured in the Pentagon strike was 22-year-old Jeannie Reese, former child prodigy and current lead designer in the government's Total Information Awareness program. As the response is mobilized, she receives a green light to activate her pet project, ARGOS, an above-top-secret, omnipresent domestic surveillance system. She soon uncovers phr33k's years-old blueprint for September 11th, and Jeannie sets out to track down this dark figure of the Internet underground and bring him to justice for his role.

But the hunt soon leads Jeannie down an alarming trail of revelations: the terrorists are gathering again, they achieved only a fraction of their aims on 9/11, and a massive follow-up attack is coming, designed by the most formidable mind she's ever encountered, conceived to bring about the end of the United States of America. Twenty-two-year-old Jeannie Reese is a computer wunderkind—and the top architect of next-generation security for the Department of Defense. Her latest brainchild is IRIN, the most powerful surveillance technology ever developed. To date, IRIN has remained ultraclassified and inactive. But on the day a shocking act of terrorism strikes U.S. shores, the presidential order comes to launch Jeannie’s creation against the dark forces behind the attack.
Known only as Phr33k, forty-one-year-old John Fagan is a legendary, reclusive computer hacker. For years he has expertly hidden himself while operating freely within the shadows of the Internet’s background noise. He has remained in complete seclusion despite his infamy as the author of a slew of massive electronic crimes—and despite his long-ago, now eerily prophetic, scenarios of terrorist warfare against America.

Under Jeannie’s direction, IRIN gathers and analyzes endless data—and unearths Phr33k. If she is to stop the next stage of a terror campaign clearly begun years before, Jeannie will have to find the überhacker; but that is only the beginning. For she soon discovers that Phr33k is being held by the leader of a vast terrorist network, who now plans to use this unique genius to conceive and deliver his final, fatal blow: a devastating nationwide wave of unparalleled destruction.
For his part, Phr33k is used to working alone. But all that will have to change.
He has a new challenge, one unlike any he’s faced before: how to provide Jeannie Reese with one outrageous, impossible shot to short-circuit the perfect, unstoppable scheme he so masterfully—and so unwillingly—helped to create. 

From Publishers Weekly: Henderson's uneven debut marks another addition to the growing list of post-9/11 thrillers in which home-grown radical elements within the United States, not Islamic fundamentalists, pose a terrorist threat. Jeannie Reese, a 22-year-old Department of Defense computer genius, has developed a powerful surveillance technology she hopes can thwart an impending attack. The terrorists, led by racist Edward Latrell, who ran for president in 1976, are holed up in a compound in Colorado, though their tentacles of sympathizers stretch all around the country. They plan to hit the U.S. all at once through a highly developed plan of coordinated attacks coast to coast. Reese, however, has assembled a crack team of techies intent on saving the nation and restoring order. Though well researched, Henderson's plot eventually crumbles into confusion and overly technical detail. Along the way, too many silly asides—including the notoriously chaste Reese's fumbling romance and eventual drunken sex with a navy lieutenant—tend to break the otherwise admirable tension.  

A Fractured Truth: A Novel by Caroline Slate (Atria Books) Seven years ago Grace Leshansky, the protagonist in a novel of psychological suspense, A Fractured Truth, written by Caroline Slate, killed her charismatic con man husband Paul Boudreau, whose final game had dealt her shattering losses. Firing the gun was an act of the moment: the fury of a true believer stripped of her last shred of belief. In a state of shock she called the police, pleaded guilty and went to prison for manslaughter. Manslaughter: to Grace’s ear the slaughter of a man sounded worse, more damning, than murder. It still does.

Now she is out of prison—indelibly changed.

Formerly a successful jewelry designer, Grace struggles against despair in a world empty of everything she held dear—except for Sheilah, her best friend since grade school. Sheilah’s unfailing devotion helps Grace in her search for a way to live with the past and in the present—too many memories and a few urgent, dangerous, questions.

Grace copes with, among other things, an unsympathetic parole officer who's probably the victim of domestic abuse and an unethical tabloid reporter who relentlessly hounds her about penning a memoir. The narrative flashes back to different stages of Grace's life: her marriage to Paul; an unusual childhood with her grifter father George (who was possibly murdered while she was in prison); her first love, of a callow blueblood who beds and abandons her.

What really happened to her father, the gambler with mob ties, who disappeared shortly before she shot Paul? Is he alive and in hiding or dead, killed perhaps by the man who was her first love to prevent him from turning FBI witness?

A Fractured Truth, which comes on like a high-stakes thriller, yet becomes a searching character study, is a twisting, charged story of love and trust turned inside out, and of friendship. It is an unforgettable portrait of a complex woman who can’t stop believing.

Up Country: A Novel by Nelson Demille (Warner Books) (PAPERBACK) (Audio Book) (Abridged Audio) (CD audio) (digital download: Microsoft or Adobe)

There is a name carved into the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., of an American army lieutenant whose death is shrouded in mystery. The authorities have reason to believe that he was not killed by the enemy, or by friendly fire; they suspect he was murdered.

At first, Paul Brenner, himself a Vietnam vet, isn't interested in investigating the case. After his forced retirement from the army's Criminal Investigation Division, he has adapted to the life of a civilian with a comfortable pension. Then his old boss, Karl Hellmann, summons him to the Vietnam Memorial to call in a career's worth of favors. Hellmann tells Brenner of the circumstances surrounding the officer's death, and gives him this much to go on: The incident happened over three decades ago in Vietnam; the only evidence is a recently discovered letter written by an enemy soldier describing an act of shocking violence. The name of the North Vietnamese soldier is known, but not his present whereabouts, or even if he is alive or dead.

Brenner's assignment: Return to Vietnam and find the witness. The addendum: The mission is very important to the U.S. Army. Brenner's the ideal man for the job. And it's in his best interest that he doesn't know what this case is really about.

Reluctantly, Brenner begins a strange journey that unearths his own painful memories of Vietnam and leads him down a trail as dangerous as the ones he walked a lifetime ago as a young infantryman. From sultry, sinful Saigon, where he meets beautiful American expatriate Susan Weber, to the remote, forbidding wilderness of up-country Vietnam, he will follow a trail of lies, betrayal, and murder-and uncover an explosive, long-buried secret.

Filled with intrigue and espionage, romance and seduction, action and adventure-as well as the author's patented, subversive wit-Up Country is, above all, about what happens when men fight in wars and how it changes them forever.

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