This nifty novella introduces us to Brody Taylor, a security consultant and computer hacker who features in a pair of novels, Invasion of Privacy and Taking up Serpents. Brody is hired by a pharmaceutical firm to find out whether it’s possible to break into their network (they’ve received some threats). It’s a tricky assignment, because the firm’s security system is state-of-the-art, but Brody is no ordinary hacker. He’s a social engineer; he exploit’s people’s weaknesses, their biases and expectations and preconceived ideas, to get himself past the firewalls. His greatest tools are people, not machines.
His other challenge…well, that’s a bit trickier. A while ago he met a woman on a dating site, and they’ve seriously hit it off. Problem is, Brody was using a false identity (he tends to keep what he does for a living to himself), and now he needs to find a way to break it to his girlfriend that he’s not who he claimed to be. Can he social-engineer his own relationship?
The author intercuts scenes of Brody walking the pharmaceutical company’s executives through the steps he took to crack their uncrackable system with scenes of and Brody and Mel building their relationship. Sutherland has a sure hand, making each scene just the right length, knowing exactly when to move on, and packing the story with enough twists and turns to keep us on our toes (including one massive twist at the end of the story, which is both exceedingly clever and very well executed).
Although the book is thematically similar to Jeffery Deaver’s The Blue Nowhere (its villain uses social-engineering techniques), and Brody Taylor shares some character traits with Nowhere’s hero, Wyatt Gillette (they’re both brilliant hackers), Social Engineer stands on its own two feet. Sutherland has constructed a very interesting and surprising story — the major plot twist is, come to think of it, something Deaver might have engineered — and if you enjoy a thriller that keeps you guessing, you’ll enjoy this one very much.