To enjoy this book, you need to understand one thing: it's not really a book. It's an action movie. Once you accept that, you can ignore the occasionally awkward writing and stereotyped characters and revel in the fistfights and high-stakes computer hacking.
I wasn't exactly expecting highbrow literature when I picked this book up, but it's been a while since I read action-packed popular fiction of this variety, and I was unprepared for the blunt force of Chapman's prose. If literary fiction authors carve their stories with a razor blade, etching out fine details in artful scrolls, Chapman crafts his with a machete.
His bio on the book jacket proclaims in the first sentence that Chapman is a screenwriter. This explains why he is so oddly clumsy at working in physical descriptions of his characters (at one point, a female character blinks “her brown, thirty-two-year-old eyes”). He also keeps his characters firmly within established cinematic roles: the young, brilliant male lead is so arrogant that everyone agrees he's a complete ass, yet somehow the sole attractive female character can't resist his nonexistent charms.
Chapman's day job does provide him with a few advantages, however. He is a master of pacing, slingshotting from one scene to the next, never giving us a chance to get bored. He's clearly done enough research into economics and technology to give scenes authenticity. And the premise is edgy enough: someone, perhaps a foreign power, is anonymously attacking US infrastructure—treasury bonds, real estate, nuclear power plants. A young bonds trader named Garrett is recruited by the military for a new program called Ascendant. He's chosen because he has a vast memory and an uncanny ability to recognize patterns. Garrett's task is to find the culprits, learn their patterns, and help the US avoid further disruptions. At least, that's what he believes at first—the deeper he gets into the program, the more suspicious he becomes of the situation and his handlers. He needs to figure out who he can trust and save the world at the same time.
Bottom line: If you enjoy movies like The Bourne Identity or The Net, you'll like this movie-in-book-form too. (Have you seen The Net? It's a classic, featuring baby Sandra Bullock and a bunch of forgettable men.)