Zero Days

Written by Ruth Ware

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes.

Zero Days
Simon & Schuster
RRP: £14.99
Released: July 6, 2023


Jack and Gabe Cross are professional penetration specialists contracted to test sophisticated security systems. Jack is the field worker while her husband stays at home with computers, blueprints and supplemental access to the dark web, directing his wife remotely by means of her Bluetooth earpiece. In Zero Days we plunge straight into an operation already in progress as Jack approaches the hub of their latest assignment, the server room. 

Which is highly exciting if you happen to have skipped the blurb and the “spoiler” revealing that this is an exercise. Taking it for real one has become engrossed in the progress of this diminutive woman as she scales a tree to top a high wall, picks locks to pass secure doors, finally breaks through a ceiling panel, sounding all the alarms - and is caught. Then she starts to bluff her way out, trying to convince guards and the cops that she’s a professional, testing the company’s security. Naturally she’s not believed, and when she phones her boss and Gabe for confirmation neither will pick up.

She fails to prove her credentials, is released provisionally but after the debacle of a botched operation and a grilling from a suspicious and unsympathetic female Detective Sergeant Jack is so exhausted that she gets lost on the drive home. Fuming, she arrives to find her house in darkness and Gabe slumped over his computers, headphones in place, and his throat slashed.

Tradition dictates that the first suspect in a murder is the spouse. In this case it’s impossible; the reader is aware that Jack is the author’s protagonist, she’s a sympathetic gamine, and we have been with her all the way. On the other hand the cops are strangers and they concentrate on the timing: Jack took too long to reach home, too long before she called the emergency services. They take no account of fatigue and shock.

Within a few hours Jack is hauled back to the station where she picks up an email informing her of an insurance policy naming her the recipient of a million pounds in the event of Gabe’s death. Ostensibly taken out by him a few days ago, this gives her the ultimate motive – but it also shows that she’s been framed. She goes on the run and, with no alternative, morphs painfully from grieving widow and prime suspect to a survivor who can clear her name only with the discovery of her husband’s killer.

She is not alone. Her sister is supportive but she’s only a shadowy aide beside Gabe’s best friend, Cole, who provides a broad shoulder and a bolt-hole, a cottage among the Sussex sand dunes. There are encounters with strangers: lorry drivers, fellow travellers, homeless people … but not all are well-disposed, and there is an awareness that something is looming in the background, something relating to timing for each chapter, and the action, is being counted down: from minus 8 to zero. 

The theme of this absorbing thriller, theme as in motivation, is one of the oldest: greed, here distinguished by the ultra-modern setting and by virtue of the extraordinary convolutions of the simplest of plots. Certainly thrilling but Zero Days is a mystery too, and the denouement is shocking. 

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