The God’s Eye View
By Barry Eisler
Thomas & Mercer
374 pages, $24.95
By Lee Coppola
It’s often difficult to separate truth from fiction in this novel about a rogue director of the National Security Agency. Edward Snowden’s name crops up on several pages, as in, “we don’t want another Snowden.”
And there are also the names of real whistleblowers who’ve been tormented; and real journalists who’ve been jailed for their work. Not to mention a CIA director and a retired general, who gave classified information to his biographer.
So that sets the stage for a maniac director with two henchmen to do his unlawful bidding, and a pretty computer tech, who’s a single mother with a deaf son who puts two and two together and finds trouble.
The author draws on his experience as an operative in the CIA and then as a technology lawyer in Silicon Valley to craft a tale about snooping and intrigue that borders too close to reality.
It’s Big Brother all over again, only in “View” he’s not only watching you, he’s hearing what you say, reading what you write, spying inside your house, chronicling who you meet and electronically tampering with your car to make your death look like an accident. Sort of like an omniscient God.
The rogue director seems patterned after J. Edgar Hoover in the way he uses his agency’s resources to compile dossiers to blackmail higher-ups to do his bidding. A powerful senator needed to stall congressional action? How about all those trips he takes, his female assistant by his side, even in the hotel rooms they share.
But the fictional director also uses those resources to eliminate those he perceives as enemies.
The list includes employees disloyal to his aims, journalists ready to expose his wrongdoings and innocent citizens killed in a bombing so he could fabricate a Muslim terror threat.
Eisler’s knowledge about the cyber world, coupled with his background in sleuthing, provide the ingredients for a near believable story that features violence, romance and mystery.
The two henchmen, rescued by the director in earlier years as soldiers, follow their boss’ commands like lemmings. They kill in all sorts of ways, with all sorts of viciousness. And they never ask questions or doubt the director’s intentions. Until . . .
But that’s getting ahead of the story. “View” starts to heat up when the pretty tech with the deaf son starts raising the director’s suspicions by asking questions about the consequences of the information she finds.
She finds the information through a computer program she designed that searches facial features and mannerisms on computer screens throughout the world.
The consequences? A field officer was killed in a car accident and a reporter was kidnapped and presumed killed after she told the director she spied them on her computer meeting in a coffee house in Turkey.
So the director dispatches one of his henchmen to watch her, figuring the henchman, who was hearing impaired, would be able to keep a close eye on her because of her deaf son. What he didn’t figure was how close, and not just an eye.
The storyline quickens as she tries to funnel critical information to the kidnapped journalist, who never was killed and who was freed thanks to the uncharacteristic mercy of the henchman assigned to watch her.
Does she succeed? Is the director foiled? Is there a happy ending? Eisler provides some of the answers but abandons the believability factor when revealing how the director gets his just desserts. It’s just too far-fetched.
And the happy ending? Maybe, but Eisler leaves the reader wondering. Perhaps he has a sequel in the works.
No matter, the fiction aside, “View” prompts the reader to question if the sleuthing techniques really exist, or might exist in the not-to-distant future. And that makes “View” a scary novel.
Lee Coppola is a former TV and print journalist, a former federal prosecutor and a former dean of St. Bonaventure University’s Jandoli Journalism School.