Red Team Blues (2023, Doherty Associates, LLC, Tom) 4 stars

Martin Hench is 67 years old, single, and successful in a career stretching back to …

Enjoyable Silicon Valley thriller

4 stars

I haven't read everything by Doctorow, but have been reading him long enough to see what I think is an interesting progression in his writing. His work in the last few years (from the exceptional "Walkaway", to the superb novella collection "Radicalized"), has seemed increasingly readable and smooth. I think it's probably no coincidence that the stories seem to be getting a little shorter too (mostly, "Walkaway" has a certain heft).

His latest, "Red Team Blues", is a financial tech thriller set in Silicon Valley, in which an itinerant, grizzled forensic accountant, Marty Hench, is drawn into a hunt for crucial McGuffin, one that threatens the foundations of a cryptocurrency network.

Hench as a character is a nice clash of genres. On the one hand, he's a like a gritty noir detective - a loner, connected but never settled (literally, he lives on a tour bus), no time or patience for bullshit. On the other, he's lives and breathes the most bullshit-ridden ecosystem in existence. As he gets caught up in, and tossed back and forth by, forces vying for control of cryptocurrency, Hench splits his time between the magical looms of the emperor's new clothes and the actual streets of San Francisco.

The plot is interesting, but what keeps the reader involved is Hench's no-nonsense getting on with things. His superpower is to move among those who spend their lives playing games and not lose sight of how things actually work, when you look past the hype of constant revolutionary presmises offered by the techbois. What's interesting here is that while Doctorow does give you some of the tech-lore involved, it plays much less of a role than it does in a lot of his work. He is much more interested, here, in contrasting the lives of the rich and how those lives bulldoze, trample, and otherwise destroy people in the world around them. There isn't much technical detail here, particularly of the forensic accounting bit, most of which occurs "off screen". We get a lot more time taken describing cooking of food than cooking of books. Oddly, I wouldn't have minded a little more on the technical end.

It's pace and brevity are definitely in its favour. If you want a sharp, easy-to-read, thriller with Doctorow's signature combination of tech and humanity, you'll enjoy this one.