Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
Clem Chambers has taken a break from his Jim Evans financo-thrillers and cast his eye back thirty-odd years to the days when computing was new, exciting and possibly very profitable.
Profitable for those who supplied the new computing services, profitable for those who recognised the potential uses of a remote and near-anonymous service. Peter Talbot – perhaps a younger Jim Evans – has opened his Online Data company to offer dial-up access to his computer, but as the story begins he has not realised the troubles he will see.
The year is 1984 and as yet there is no world wide web, and not really an internet. Peter's services, I guess, are what used to be called a Bulletin Board. He has an idea that his potential customers will use it for a month or two and then drop off. Why gentlemen who prefer to pay in cash and use pseudonyms should want long term contracts he does not understand. Peter, though, would like the good life: more time with his girlfriend, to learn to fly, money in the bank. And money is what starts to arrive.
Unfortunately for Peter early blackmailing hackers are also looking to exploit him, as well as the villains he has so naively provided with a new means of communication. Fortunately, he has found George. George is an ex-serviceman, who is getting on a bit, and is looking for something to do. Fortunately for Peter, George is willing to become his right-hand man, and boy does he need one because Peter gets the sexual opportunities but he does not get what else is going on, at least until the bodies start to drop in his yard and he discovers the benefits of the new car George has chosen for him.
Are Peter and George alone in this? Not exactly: Peter is feeding information to Major Mojo-Smith who can be contacted through a government department, though not one that uses military ranks. Whether the major will provide Peter with a bodyguard is another matter.
We are in a retro-techno thriller. Cast your mind back to the small start-ups of the early 1980s: underfunded, and in whatever property they could afford. The Thatcher boom and the hedge fund investments in high-tech had not started. Peter upgrades his equipment and his backup procedures as the money comes in, and a paint-job hides the worst of the office suite, but its limitations causes some falling-off in visitor experience later on; luckily when Peter is away and George can clean up.
I noticed a couple of anachronisms, including a laptop at a time when portable computers were still suitcase sized, and Peter's success with the girls, given his nerdishness, would make his fellow hackers greener than the slime on their cold pizzas; otherwise, I wonder if there is not a little autobiography in Clem Chambers' first Hacker Chronicle. If there is you will be able to follow him: the sequel Log On For Crime is available now, as well. And if there isn't any of Clem Chambers in Peter or George, then you may find a little of Albert Campion and Magersfontein Lugg. The bodies you will find in the alley out the back.