Humble Book Review: Silk Road

My partner has recently been holding a curious fascination with what is known as the dark web. In turn, I delved into the available information in the ‘safe’ internet we all are familiar with, also known as the clear web. The more I had read, the more I wanted to know about it. The internet we know comprises of only 4% of all web pages – 96% resides in the dark web. Think of that unsettling iceberg metaphor – most of it you can’t even see. And the services provided on the dark web range from the subjectively illegal such as drug trafficking, to the downright morally abhorrent such as human experimentation, child pornography, and torture.

Silk Road by Eileen Ormsby details the rise and fall of one of the more tame sections of the dark web; encrypted online drug vending. It explains how another critical invention – the purely digital cryptocurrency Bitcoin – allowed Silk Road, the first of it’s kind, to flourish into the ‘eBay of Drugs’ with a dedicated fan base that may have come for the safer drug purchases, but stayed for the libertarian revolution, helmed by the infamous online persona Dread Pirate Roberts.

This was a great read, primarily because the author held a very level and informative tone about the overall drug trafficking trade that didn’t slip into a manic fever, like the majority of columnists and television news reporters so often do. And there was good reason to not wear the loud critic’s hat, because against the mainstream media’s expectations, Silk Road actually flourished into a civil online community with helpful advice on overcoming addiction, safe use of drugs, and the site even had a resident qualified doctor to answer user questions for free (or very small voluntary donations).

However, nothing lasts forever, and the combined efforts of the LEO (Law Enforcement Officers) scouring for human mistakes, the big-time scammers misusing customer trust, and the crippling hacking events, had all played a part in the original movement’s downfall.

The supposed capture of the enigmatic Dread Pirate Roberts, the man behind it all, accelerated the site’s demise. But in a world centred on anonymity, is the man the police captured so easily the same man that was so very careful and paranoid online?

Ormsby, Silk Road’s community, and I all have our doubts. Hence, the book doesn’t really reach a satisfying conclusion, because it seems to suggest that the Silk Road story is far from over. But the inclusions of interviews and quotes from people who were a part of the community, and letters from Dread Pirate Roberts himself, all make for Silk Road to be a great insight into a world few know about and fewer visit themselves.

Check it out for yourself here.

Advertisements

Humble Book Review: End of Watch

Well, this is it. End of Watch is an end to the Bill Hodges trilogy that started in 2014 with Mr Mercedes, and was followed up with Finders Keepers in 2015. If this tells us anything, it’s that King writes like the devil. This whole trilogy was completed in only three years, and that’s not mentioning the small fact that he published Revival and The Bazaar of Bad Dreams in between. The man is on fire, perhaps trying to get as much done as he can before that robed skeletal figure pays him a more final visit than in 1999.

In the novel, Bill Hodges is still running his private detective agency alongside Holly Gibney, you’ll recall from the first two novels. While battling his own life-threatening issues, he gets drawn into a string of suicide cases, all somehow linking back to his nemesis from Mr Mercedes, Brady Hartsfield. A seemingly impossible notion, as he was left in a vegetative state after their first major encounter.

So, what role, if any, does Brady have with these suicides connected to him and his past? Is everything as it seems, or are there extraordinary abilities at play? And what do the pink fish and the numbers have to do with all of it?

What we get with End of Watch is precisely what we expect from the prior two novels; a fun, thrilling piece of ‘quicktion’ (yes, I’ve been known to portmanteau the line from time to time). A great, fast-paced chase to catch a horrible entity before some cataclysmic event occurs. Considering this, I think it comes out on par with the first two books. A formidable antagonist, high stakes, and a satisfying conclusion. Also, it does wrap up the trilogy pretty well.

However, there’s a little something in King’s style here that I can’t get over. There’s a not-so-subtle criticism of current world events and technology that peppers its way through the pages, and it comes across as that ‘crusty old uncle that complains about how the world used’a be without all the gahd-darn computers and slimy politicians’. I don’t mean through dialogue or the thoughts of the protagonist, since he is old and sometimes salty about the world, so it’d make sense. I mean the seemingly out of place metaphors from the author’s voice that creep in. There’s even a reference to Trump, who people reading this in one year’s time won’t remember, because he’ll be a relative nobody once more.

Immersion-breaking metaphoric rants aside, this book gives you exactly what you want from the series. A thrilling hunt with a satisfying conclusion.

Humble Book Review: Gerald’s Game

I think many of us wonder at any given moment what the worst possible situation is, giving rise to anxiety. What if that car speeding down the road veered into me? What if a random stranger just pulled down my pants and everyone laughed? What if, while i’m handcuffed to the bed for some kinky sexy fun time in a cabin away from anyone else, my partner dies of a heart attack?

Well, you’re in luck if you’ve pondered over the last one, because so has Stephen King, with Gerald’s Game.

Jessie and Gerald Burlingame decide to spend a weekend at their lakeside cabin for said kinky sexy fun time. After a heated argument and two swift kicks, Gerald finds himself dead, leaving Jessie stranded in handcuffs with only the voices in her head and the sounds of isolation. Only through her inner voices combating one another do we find out the kind of spirited woman Jessie is, and the shocking childhood memory she had skirted around most of her life.

There is quite a serious theme here, regarding her painful memory involving her father and the day the sky turned dark. It’s a real issue that affects many people, and kudos goes to King for handling it with care, and not trivialising it. I found that when these memories unfolded, at the behest of the “Jessie” voice in her head, I couldn’t put the book down. It was disturbing, much in the same way that you can’t turn away when you witness a car accident. This, and when Jessie was going through realistic situations of survival in that room, were the most compelling chapters.

However, as is par for the King course, after a while there might be a dabble into the supernatural. While usually I don’t mind, it doesn’t work when the first two thirds of the novel sets it up to be nothing but natural. Horrible, but not abnormal. I find it difficult to suspend disbelief when after 200 pages I’ve mostly established the world these events are taking place. Not to spoil the ending – which felt like it overstayed its welcome – but a certain rectification was a little tacked on.

Gerald’s Game shines in character development, though, with much of the book taking place in Jessie’s head. You really begin to understand her hardships and relationships with former friends though the multiple voices not letting her be. As this Saw-like trap bears down on her mentally and physically, you watch her transform into someone else, someone powerful.

A good book, with striking imagery, though it’s a shame some themes felt unnecessary.

And with finishing Gerald’s Game, I think I’m finally over the halfway mark with King’s backlog! That is, until he just released his new book, End of Watch. Well, better get to reading it. I’ll never catch up at the rate he pumps out books.

Humble Book Review: The Dark Half

Rest in peace, Richard Bachman. He passed away tragically in 1985 by a “cancer of the pseudonym, a rare form of schizonomia”.

Perhaps, after reading The Dark Half, Stephen King had more involvement in Richard’s passing than we first thought.

It’s relatively well known that for some time in the 80’s, King was writing under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. He published great – and sometimes controversial – novels such as Rage, The Running Man, and Thinner. After the alternate pen-name was outed, King had to put Richard to rest.

It’s crystal clear where King found inspiration for The Dark Half, then. He lived the premise himself – although hopefully not the chilling paranormal elements. In this novel, we find a clumsy yet well meaning author, Thad Beaumont, trying to readjust his life after putting his pseudonym, George Stark, to rest. He and his wife even agreed to a theatrical burial, with a fake tombstone, for an article in People magazine. Thad was outed as Stark by a “creepazoid”, but he didn’t mind terribly much. It was a relief to him and his wife, since although Stark’s run of books was much more successful, the tone was much darker, and Thad became a different, colder man when writing as Stark.

As is King fashion, things put to rest never stay that way. In this case, even something which arguably didn’t exist in the first place – a pseudonym – comes back to haunt Thad, and hunts down those that contributed to his “death”.

There are some incredible moments of tension here with Stark. A cold-blooded killer with nothing to lose, he performed some chilling actions. Posing as a blind man to execute two cops and a victim. Wielding his straight razor as if it’s his talisman, slicing at innocent throats. In particular, when Stark is coddling a baby and tickling it with the muzzle of his loaded gun to intimidate the baby’s parents – horrific images come to mind of worst case scenarios.

Some themes, while initially difficult to make connections with the overall novel, come together nicely. What do the sparrows mean? What is the significance of Thad’s childhood surgery? Why do his baby twins act in sync at times? These concepts do tie in together quite nicely at the end. Although King tried to play on the theme of non-acceptance of paranormal events, I felt that the incremental leaps of faith were too large. If you’re dead-set against things that can’t be explained, why allow yourself to follow the thread, assuming they are right?

Regardless, a great thriller, even if it is yet another notch in the “King protagonist is a struggling author” trope. You know what they say; write what you know.