Review

Smasher: A Silicon Valley Thriller

by Keith Raffel

It has been far too long since Keith Raffel has graced us with
his presence on the bookshelves. But his latest effort makes the
wait worthwhile. Raffel, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, knows the
topography well and demonstrates it in this fast-paced, one-sit
read. SMASHER, the follow-up to DOT DEAD, marks the return of Ian
Michaels, the brilliant if reluctant CEO of Accelenet, a
cutting-edge IT company.

Raffel’s primary talent is his ability to make that which
is complex interesting to the ordinary mind. In SMASHER, he sets
two plot lines along razor-sharp paths. One involves a potential
takeover of Accelenet by Ricky Frankson, the fabulously successful
CEO of the powerful Torii Networks. Frankson wants total control of
Accelenet and is lowballing Michaels on the price while inexorably
bringing market forces to bear to force the sale. Michaels has no
particular love for the company he heads, having been more or less
forced into the helm position by the disappearance of his
predecessor and former friend. But he nonetheless feels an
obligation to Accelenet’s employees and stockholders to get
desperately needed capital for the company while maintaining
control. The result --- a war fought without white weaponry --- is
an exciting one due to Raffel’s ability to describe what is
occurring in the boardroom and on the cell phones in terms that do
not require a master’s degree in business administration.

At the same time, Michaels is given an intriguing assignment by
his mother. Her sister and Michael’s aunt was Isobel Marter,
the first woman in Stanford University’s physics department
and, as it turns out, a largely unheralded member of the research
team responsible for the discovery of quarks. When Stanford names a
particle physics lab after Marter, it sparks a conversation between
Michaels and his mother, which, in turn, leads Michaels into an
investigation of his own.

His digging is initially stonewalled by Dr. William Z. Tompkins,
an eccentric physicist who was part of the original research team
that won the Nobel Prize for the discovery. Tompkins did not get
along with Marter and has a vested interest in seeing that the
historical record is not disturbed. Michaels, notwithstanding the
pressure of Frankson’s continuing efforts to buy Accelenet,
discovers that Marter’s contribution to the research was far
greater than the historical record would otherwise indicate. Those
(including this reviewer) whose knowledge of physics is limited to
a rudimentary understanding of gravity are treated during the
course of the narration to a basic, understandable and enjoyable
explanation of the makeup of atoms as Michaels slowly comes to the
realization that an historical wrong, among others, has been
committed.

When an unexpected tragedy strikes, Michaels finds his attention
further diverted not only from his mother’s request but also
from his defense of Accelenet. Someone appears to be after him and
his beloved wife, Rowena. Is the tragedy the result of
happenstance? Perhaps the threat is related to Rowena’s work
as a deputy District Attorney. Could it be one of Frankson’s
minions trying to persuade him into relinquishing his company? Or
is Michaels being warned off his investigation? Michaels must
discover the who and the why behind the tragic incident as
Rowena’s life --- and, perhaps, his own --- hangs in the
balance.

Keith Raffel is a master storyteller, bringing strong, parallel
plot lines and sharp characterization in equal measure to the
printed page while fulfilling and surpassing the promise of his
debut work. Let us hope that we do not have to wait quite so long
for his next offering.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

Smasher: A Silicon Valley Thriller
by Keith Raffel

  • Publication Date: October 8, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: MIDNIGHT INK
  • ISBN-10: 0738718742
  • ISBN-13: 9780738718743