Matt Richtel’s thriller Hooked starts off with a literal bang and carries the reader along on an explosive techno-obsessed journey. The unsuspecting reader is thrown into the action at the top of page two, and that’s when the paranoia sets in.
Nat Idle is sitting in the San Francisco Marina District at a quiet Internet café when a woman hands him a note. For a second he assumes the note is a pickup attempt, but the woman’s abrupt departure from the café piques his curiosity. He chases after her, but she takes off in a red Saab before he can catch her. As he stands outside and unfolds the note that warns him to get out of the café immediately, the building blows up behind him. The handwriting in the note is unmistakable; it is that of Annie, a former lover who died in a boating accident four years before. Nat is hooked, propelled on a journey to find out if Annie is alive and what connection she might have to the bombing.
Nat enlists the aid of another survivor of the blast, a waitress named Erin Coultran, but not without a nagging suspicion that she might have been involved in some way. There are many disturbing coincidences. An aspiring author, Simon Anderson, another survivor of the café blast, becomes a victim of arson at his home. Erin finally volunteers that her boyfriend, Andy, was once a friend of Simon’s. Andy suffered from headaches and mood swings for several weeks before jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. When Nat enlists the help of a “geeky” friend to explore Andy’s laptop for clues, Nat begins to feel similarly ill. The plot thickens. Has technology the power to control human beings?
Technologically impaired readers who have just mastered basic word processing on their computers may want to go back to pen and paper after reading this book - perhaps a safer alternative.
Matt Richtel, who has written for the New York Times covering technology and communication, has the credentials to write this book with authority. Surprisingly, he is also a comic strip writer who writes strip “Rudy Park” using the pen name Theron Heir. Richtel’s sense of humor is showcased in Hooked, as well, particularly notable in the personalities of his characters Bullseye and Samantha Leary, owners of the Past Time Bar. Imagine the mismatched union of a witch-like spiritual healer who wears homemade knit hats to regulate her temperature and a math whiz unable to hold down a job who got his name from firing a badly aimed dart and hitting a waitress. Priceless!
Richtel’s writing style has its good and bad points. On the plus side, sentences and dialogue flow easily, and chapters are short and each include a hook at the end. On the minus side, flashbacks to prior time spent with Annie can confuse momentarily and distract from the main tale – not nearly enough reason to dismiss the book.
All in all, this is a wonderful book, perfectly suited for an afternoon at the beach. Don’t miss it!