In his first fictional outing, tech philosopher Tom Chatfield takes readers on a journey into the world of hackers, surveillance and the dark web. But while he brings his considerable knowledge of the subject to bear on the story, he has still managed to deliver a cracking techno-thriller – This is Gomorrah with the subtitle: The Dark Web Threatens One Innocent Man.
The story opens in 2014, a pair of brothers have travelled to Syria to be part of ISIS and soon after get themselves in deeper than they planned. Cut back to the UK and hacker Azi is spending his free time creating a false identify so he can infiltrate a white supremacist movement and try and bring it down from the inside. His world is turned upside down when he is contacted by another hacker called Sigma who needs his help and then soon after busted by some unnamed British intelligence agency. Both want his help in dealing with the information that Sigma has obtained and in cracking into Gomorrah, a dark web market place for all things shady:
A name rumoured at the edges of the most twisted forums: a place the worst people dream of visiting. A punchline to jokes about the stuff no darknet will sell you… A marketplace for martyred souls, for life and death.
This is the start of an odyssey that will take Azi across Europe and later to America. Azi has just enough smarts to get by while also being completely out of his depth. He is a bit of an everyman, is able to survive using his hacking skills but will also have to become a bit of an action hero, to the best of his limited ability.
Unlike many techo-thrillers, This is Gomorrah feels firmly rooted in the real and the here and now, but with a plot that is over the top enough to be enjoyable rather than hide-under-the-bed scary. Chatfield clearly knows his stuff and there is plenty of scary exposition about the uses to which the internet and associated technologies are being put. And while the exposition often threatens to bog the whole enterprise down, he manages to keep enough pace in Azi’s plight to keep things moving through the slow parts.
This is Gomorrah ticks many of the techno-thriller boxes – terrorists, shady intelligence organisations, cliffhangers, twists and a moustache-twirling Bond-like villain pulling the strings – but in an original package. It is not the doorstop of constant action and toys that many modern techno-thrillers, particularly those coming out of America have become. And on top of that, contains plenty of eye-opening information about the underside of the internet revolution that we are living through.