It is rather fitting don’t you think, that on the day the passing of John le Carré is announced I finish a book written by an author who could pick up his mantle and carry it proudly.
Johnston’s style has all the silken touches of great espionage writing but leaves the reader in no doubt this is the 21st century and computer code is the new tradecraft. All the tension and suspense is focussed around interpreting the logic behind the code rather than on a bleak park bench in Moscow trading codewords.
The genius of Johnston’s prose is he makes the process of hacking root files sexy. Just being in our protagonist-hacker Brigitte Sharpe’s head as she goes about solving one software puzzle after another is like eating a delicious meal. We’re taken on a complex journey that is so easy to digest we get to feel like hackers too, peering over Brigette’s shoulder as her fingers dance over the keyboard.
Sharpe was first introduced to us in The Exphoria Code, where our MI6 elite hacker foiled a terror attack on London using stolen military drone software to deliver a dirty bomb. This time around Bridge is faced with ransomware attacks on government ministers by a mysterious hacker known only as Tempus whose true intentions slowly and terrifyingly come to light. We’re drawn into the shady world of the dark web and cryptocurrencies where fortunes can literally be won and lost in the blink of an eye. It’s a mouth-watering tale of Russian hackers and political cyber-attacks that could ultimately destroy the balance of global power.
But there’s more to our friendly spy hacker than just routine intelligence work. We’re with her through her personal life too; a dysfunctional family life, her own self-loathing and some simply brilliantly written throwaway lines about her world seen from her perspective. An alternative mindset that can’t quite understand why no one else can see her point of view. Tendrils of Steeg Larson’s Lisbeth Salander, but Sharpe’s no clone, just a wonderfully thought through character the world of espionage has been crying out for.
Johnston is no stranger to writing. He has a string of successful graphic novels and videogames including Atomic Blonde which was turned into a Hollywood movie starring Charlize Theron.
In thriller writing, we’re so often faced with having to suspend reality for the sake of the plot, so the genius of both Brigitte Sharp novels is the way she logically navigates her way through seemingly impossible dead ends.
Full marks to Antony Johnston for creating a wholly believable 21st Century heroine and holding our hands so deftly through the complex world of cybercrime.
I can’t wait for the next one.
Tell me more about The Tempus Project by Antony Johnston
The Tempus Project by Antony Johnson is available at all good bookshop and also direct from Eye Books at Tempus Project £8.99 (with free P&P).