- Cory Doctorow: Red Team Blues (Tor, 2023 — United States, United Kingdom)
This is a half-cooked detective novel. Martin Hench is a freelance forensic accountant and old-school crypto guy who makes a good enough living off his casual jobs recovering stolen money. Marty is sixty-seven and more than ready to retire from the tech detective life. But he knows his stuff, and continues to receive calls from the many good friends he has accumulated over the decades.
Danny is another old school crypto guy. He runs Trustlesscoin, a cryptocurrency blockchain that solves the Sybil problem with secure enclaves. (See Mobilecoin for a real-life example.) Danny somehow got his hands on the private keys of various computer manufacturers’ secure enclaves, which would allow an attacker access to millions, if not billions, of devices of all kinds. The laptop stored safely with the keys was stolen and Danny had the hardware token stolen from him to open it.
Danny calls his old friend Marty to help him get the keys, or at least the laptop. He doesn’t think it’s possible to even get the laptop back, but Marty is the only hope he has left. Danny’s threat model is the criminals he knows are laundering money on Trustlesscoin, who will be very unhappy with him if hacked. And those who stole the keys hoping to hack Trustlesscoin will be even more upset.
The first chapter is an expansive “As You Know, Bob” exhibit, where Danny and Marty explain how cryptocurrency works – despite being told they’re experts before. Simply including the Trustlesscoin white paper couldn’t have been worse.
I kept reading because I got addicted to the puzzle, which is the kind of problem that the kind of people who read this blog would be interested in. That works. The characters develop their character along the way.
The initial mystery is solved a third of the way. Then, Marty’s electric car battery catches fire, and it looks like it’s been tampered with by the very disappointed very bad guys.
Marty shows us how open your data is if powerful enough actors want to find you, and how people in dire need of a guillotine hide their money overseas. It’s Doctorow complaining about these guys like he does in his most edgy blog posts, but he makes it work.
The plot mostly ends off-screen, which is a bit unsatisfying. But the book ends happily, modulo a lot of dead gangsters.
I enjoyed it, more than I expected. If you are cynical about crypto and love to read about financial shenanigans – the most interesting subject in the world – then you can enjoy it too.
This is apparently the first of a possible series of novels by Martin Hench. Should be good.
“Finally, thank you to all the crypto crooks for giving me such fertile ground to till.”