Nat Idle is hanging around in a Marina district coffeehouse one day when a mysterious stranger walks by his table and slips him a note, warning him to leave the premises immediately. She heads off before he has a chance to talk to her.
As he makes his way toward the cafe door hoping to make contact with her, there’s a huge explosion that kills several people; Nat survives with some superficial injuries.
Exactly who is the woman who saved his life? In his attempt to find out, he finds himself at the center of what could be a 21st-century conspiracy of technology.
Nat is the modern-day hero of “Hooked” (Hachette Book Group, 289 pages, $24.99) by San Francisco reporter Matt Richtel, who covers technology and telecommunications for The New York Times and also pens a syndicated comic strip, “Rudy Park,” set in a San Francisco Internet cafe.
Could it be that Richtel has been taking his day jobs home? In his appealing first novel, that appears to be the case.
A brisk read filled with twists and turns and a leave-you-hanging feeling at the end of every succinct chapter, “Hooked” is a cool, often funny, thriller about the possibilities, and dangers, of cyberspace — things Richtel clearly has pondered in his daily life.
But it’s also a down-to-earth story about a scrappy guy who leaves medical school in order to pursue a freelance journalism whose romance with a sexy young Silicon Valley venture capitalist ends abruptly when she disappears in a boating accident.
Yet Annie isn’t the only woman in his life. As he tries to unravel the mounting, inexplicably violent events that follow the coffeehouse explosion, he becomes friendly with Erin, a cafe employee who seems to have some insight into the incident and its victims. He’s also pursued by police officers on the case he’s had personal experience with — officers who had been the subject of an unrelated, negative news story he wrote in the recent past.
Richtel offers something for everyone. Fans of mysteries will enjoy the proliferation of extraordinary occurrences and Nat’s haphazard, yet somehow uncannily savvy, crime-solving efforts. (Why are “regular” folks in books like these always as smart as seasoned investigators?)
Geeks will love his attention to detail when it comes to the computers that begin to take on increased importance as the story develops, while ethicists will dig into his thoughtful analysis, and questioning, of the effects that digital technology have on the mind — and body.
Lovers of fiction simply will appreciate that, despite the super contemporary themes, it’s an old-fashioned yarn with a likable hero that simply makes you want to turn the page to find out what happens next.
Richtel will sign books:
» Tonight at 7 at Books Inc., 2251 Chestnut St., San Francisco. Call (415) 931-3633.
» Wedensday at M is for Mystery in San Mateo at 7 p.m.
» Thursday at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park at 7:30 p.m.
» June 29 at Book Passage in Corte Madera at 5:30 and 7 p.m.