This is Gomorrah by Tom Chatfield
Published earlier this summer, this techno-thriller was very thought-provoking – it will lead any reader to question the world as portrayed on the web, and how terrorists and hackers are using it to further their own aims by going dark.
The plot follows Azi, a hacker from East Croydon (my home area – I was immediately interested, sadly!) who works from his garden shed. He and his mate Ad learnt how to hack together, but Ad went off to a job in the US, leaving Azi behind.
Lately, Azi has developed a new obsession – posing online in some very nasty right-wing chat rooms for a global political anti-Islamic group called Freedom, having invented an alias who is verifiable. He has taken the utmost care to be untraceable. But when his hacker ‘friend’ Sigma says she needs help as people are after her, and then someone turns up and ‘persuades’ him to join in the hunt for access to (and subsequent take-down of) the dark web ‘Gomorrah’ run by IS, Azi is thrust into another level. In between Azi’s story, we follow a British terrorist in IS who is planning his escape after seeing his cousin murdered in Syria. His story will eventually ties into the main plot.
Things become tricky from hereon in and Azi is a true fish out of water in the deadly world of agency vs agency vs terrorists, he is neither an action hero nor a natural at socialising, and doesn’t hesitate to let us know it. He’ s a hoodie and stubble, ‘jeans distressed by time rather than designer intent’ kind of guy. He’s an irritating, but sort of likeable anti-hero.
Combining violent action thriller aspects, as Azi and his new bosses are chased across Europe, with the techno world of the dark web, this novel is one long complicated crescendo towards a jaw-dropping finale. At times it was so complex with the layers of espionage and double-crossing that I was at a loss for what was really going on, but the narrative kept me reading!
Chatfield is good at the technology and demonstrates a good understanding of the political world of the terrorists, keeping things as grim and dark as the dark web itself, which scares me stiff. An academic specialising in digital culture and gaming, Chatfield speaks and consults on new media and technology – this is his first novel after several NF books. This is Gomorrah is compact for a thriller at under 300 pages, an accomplished (if violent) debut, but I would read more techno-thrillers by this author, and there is potential to meet Azi again perhaps. (7.5/10)
Source: Review copy. Tom Chatfield, This is Gomorrah (Hodder & Stoughton, July 2019) Hardback, 288 pages.