Top positive review
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A dark comedy of industrial skullduggery
on 14 January 2004
I couldn't put PARANOIA down once I started. It doesn't get better than that.
Adam Cassidy, a junior product line manager in the consumer electronics giant Wyatt Telecom, pulls a prank involving the impersonation of a company VP, hacking into Wyatt's proprietary database, and illegally disbursing seventy-eight grand to fund the retirement bash of some unsuspecting (but grateful) shmoe on the loading dock. Cassidy is looking at 55 years of prison time, minimum, unless he plays ball with the company CEO, Nicholas Wyatt, who proposes a scheme to insert Adam as an espionage mole into the heart of Wyatt's biggest competitor, Trion Systems. There's evidence that Trion has initiated a super-secret project, and Cassidy's redemption is to find out what it's all about - or else.
To transform Adam into the marketable Whiz Kid that he isn't, he's intensively prepped by Nicholas Wyatt's personal "executive coach" and provided with a totally fictitious but very impressive CV. Launched into Trion for a job interview, he's subsequently hired. Through apparent luck and circumstance (and with info fed to him by his Wyatt handlers), Adam quickly becomes the special assistant to Trion's CEO, Jock Goddard. Cassidy is now in a perfect position to feed Wyatt intel on Trion's secret project, "Aurora".
As befitting an espionage thriller, author Joseph Finder divides his book's ninety-three chapters into nine parts based on spy terminology, and which mirror the plot's evolution: The Fix (a person is blackmailed into being an agent), Backstopping (establishing an agent's cover), Plumbing (a covert operation's support assets), Compromise (detection by the opposition), Blown (exposure of an agent or operation), Dead Drop (hiding place for clandestine messages), Control (pressure exerted to prevent an agent's defection), Black Bag (illegal entry to obtain intelligence material), and Active Measures (operations that'll affect another nation's policies or strategies).
PARANOIA paints a cynical portrait of corporate business practices and ethics. Indeed, Cassidy is almost an anti-hero since he isn't exactly burdened with moral scruples. He regrets his original stunt only because he got nailed, and his role at Trion because the alternative is so much worse. That is, until he decides that Goddard is the most decent human being he's ever met - the loving father figure he never had. Is Adam developing a conscience?
Even at 400+ pages, PARANOIA is one of those books one wishes would never end. The action is taut, the dialogue clever, the plot darkly comedic, and the ending deliciously twisted (though perhaps not unexpected). My only complaint - a minor one - is that the last chapter, and indeed the very last line, is so lacking in closure for the Cassidy character that I looked to see if my copy was short a couple pages. (I intended to query the author, but hadn't saved his email address.) It only works if there's to be a sequel. But, looking at the author's publishing history, sequels don't seem to be his style.
I suggest PARANOIA would make an entertaining film starring Ben Affleck as Cassidy, Donald Sutherland as Goddard, and Tim Roth as Wyatt.