This book is loosely based around recent history of cryptography. It explores the theme of government surveillance of electronically stored information on the private lives of citizens, and the possible civil liberties and ethical implications using such technology.
While most thrillers are based on “hardware” that consists of big guns, airplanes, and weapons that make things explode. Dan Brown has written a thriller which is an Internet user’s spy novel where the good guys and bad guys struggle over secrets somewhat more intellectual than just where the secret formula is hidden–they have to gain understanding of what the secret formula actually is. In this case, the secret formula is a new means of encryption, capable of changing the balance of international power.
For those who started off with Dan Brown’s more popular novels, this might seem to lack a bit as compared to his other novels. The reason being that Digital Fortress has an excellent plot, but in terms of characters, it falls a bit short. A disgruntled NSA employee develops an unbreakable encryption program (the Digital Fortress) and threatens to give both the encryption program and the key through his website on the Internet. If the key ends up falling into the wrong hands, then it means that terrorists will be able to communicate without fear of the NSA decrypting their messages. With the risk of national security and secrets being compromised, the NSA is in a state of panic. They send in David Becker, a professor on languages to track down the former employee. However, David learns that the man has died in suspicious circumstances. Soon, there is trail of cold murders and hidden clues which need to be solved to protect the Digital Fortress at any cost.
This Dan Brown thriller, post Da Vinci Code fame, follows much the same style and basic plot structure as Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code. You can almost see the plot unfold before you actually read it. It is definitely a fast-paced book and breathtaking at times which will take readers into the world of cyber space and national intelligence. The story line quickly builds into gripping life or death scenarios that Dan Brown has become known for. Brown definitely has a way of blending fact with fiction to create an interesting story-line. However, though his writing style as a fiction author is always interesting, any possible realism in his stories always stretch a bit thin with the time-lines and implausible situations he puts his characters into. Also, with four different stories going on simultaneously, Brown’s idea of combining them at the end is a great idea, but with the fine details Dan Brown puts into each sentence, it becomes hard to understand everything.
There are enough twists and turns to keep readers guessing and a lot of hi-fi information about encryption, code breaking, and the role they play in international politics. However, the characters are not very well developed and seem to be the only reason why the book’s interesting plot fails at places. Brown could have also done without the extra romantic cheesiness in this book that made it slightly uncomfortable to read, it made a book about national-level cryptography seem over simplified into a romance novel that was set against a life or death backdrop. This is a good book if you want learn a bit about the NSA, computer programming and codes. But for plot and style, it’s just the usual Dan Brown again.
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