I was over at a neighbor's house in 1978 when I wandered into the den and found the resident 15-year-old busily cobbling something together with a screwdriver and some other odds and ends. "Whatcha' doin'?" I asked in my best Midwestern accent. "Oh," he replied, I'm tapping into checking account records at the ________ Bank." He pointed to the small television set that his thingamajig was attached to, and scrolling (well, I would have described it as "rolling" back then) down the screen were names and numbers and all sorts of data. I asked, "How in the heck are you doing that?" He gave me a semitechnical answer, but what it boiled down to was he was, as we would now say, hacking. He was also causing some mischief, but that's another story for another time.
Things have changed a lot in the intervening 23 years. Computers are everywhere now --- right in front of you, for example --- and I wouldn't call it an invasion. We've pretty much opened the door and invited them in, attracted by their allure, just as we would a wampyr that would come a-tapping on the window at 3:13 a.m. bearing promises of unbelievable pleasure and the realities of excruciating pain. Computers have so inserted themselves into our lives that we hardly think about them. That's about to change, however, if you sit down for a few hours and read THE BLUE NOWHERE by Jeffery Deaver.
Deaver has commented elsewhere concerning the tenacious outlining and research he engages in before he ultimately sets thought to paper. The research part of that quickly becomes evident in THE BLUE NOWHERE. Have you ever stopped to think about the mechanics involved in the near miracle that takes place when you touch a button or key on your keyboard and it miraculously materializes on your video monitor? You probably don't think about it at all, until the day you sit down to write that business proposal that's due in two hours and key "The quick brown fox jumped over the fence" and it comes out "Gds wscud vorsx rcm hypdcc xcgn psw blgnv." Deaver explains the mechanics of it and makes it not just interesting but fascinating --- and does it without detracting from the narrative of his storyline. Deaver also gives us some wonderful little nuggets concerning who is regarded as the first computer programmer (their last name does not begin or end with "Gates"), a little history of the personal computer, and an abject lesson or three about how much information about you is floating around in the blue nowhere, bouncing around electronically like dandelion thistles blowing through the air on a spring day, out there to be snatched at random.
And that last thought ties in with the storyline. Longtime readers of Deaver know what to expect, which actually heightens the suspense. The bad guy in THE BLUE NOWHERE is a hacker, a freaking maniacal genius hacker, whose code name is Phate. Phate is playing a very, very deadly game wherein he picks a victim at random, invades their computer, their personal life, and then murders them. He could be anybody and he could be anywhere. Phate is playing the game with the enigmatic Shawn, who is even more mysterious than Phate. Either one of them could be any character in the THE BLUE NOWHERE. The reader has no way of knowing. Deaver, as a result of meticulous outlining, planning, and --- let's say it --- raw, unbridled literary talent, thus makes the appearance of even the most minor, walk-on character potentially portentous. Phate could be the pizza guy, the motorcycle cop, the cashier, anyone. And if the readers don't know who Phate is, the local law enforcement guys don't either.
Once they realize that Phate is out there, a task force comprised of law enforcement personnel and computer experts is formed to bring him down. The task force head, in desperation and over objections, springs Wyatt Gillette, an imprisoned hacker, to help out with the investigation. Gillette is as brilliant as is Phate, a fact that only serves to infuriate Phate and make him ratchet his activities up a notch or two. When Phate strikes at the very heart of the task force, seemingly at whim, their work becomes even more intense. No one is safe; and they can trust no one.
Deaver at this point seems incapable of writing badly, and each new book he publishes becomes, by default, his best. He sustains this energy, this momentum, with THE BLUE NOWHERE. One caveat, however: this book will change you. You will never turn on a computer or a cell phone again without thinking about THE BLUE NOWHERE.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 1, 2002