Robbie Case is the head of Core, a multi-million dollar company that he unwittingly founds with his cousin Trevor. Dealing in selling blue boxes full of high technology that greatly improves the speed and flow of information, he’s walking around with the secret that none of it works. Each sale and success story brings Core closer to collapse- which could happen at anytime- making Robbie Case a rich man, even as it bankrupts everyone around him who has worked for and believed in Core for the three years since its inception. Robbie only sleeps two hours per night and spends the rest of his time overseeing Core while trying to save it and the people who work for him from its ultimate demise. Robbie keeps track of the elaborate lie that runs Core with a program that he especially designed called Shimmer, but time is running out and someone is onto Robbie. The race is on to find out who knows his secrets and when that happens there is a big price that he and everyone well have to pay for his lies.
It took me awhile to get into this story. The beginning chapters are a set up of the technology and the company, and I only had the barest grasp of what was going on. As the outline of how it all worked presented itself, and the novel shifted to examine the human element I became more absorbed in Robbie and his cousin Trevor’s distinct personalities, and why each of them would embark on such a risky proposition as the one in which they were involved. Robbie particularly gambles and the only collateral that he has against telling such a monstrous lie is that he has always believed that hard work is the solution to every problem. I’m not really sure that I was ever convinced of Robbie’s theory of hard work motivating him to perpetuate such a lie and a gamble with people’s livelihoods, and even if that were true the reasoning is beyond flawed, but it was enough to move along the story.
The narrative of the novel alternates between Robbie’s own first person perspective and third person mini-chapters outlining the doubts that each member of his senior staff is experiencing about the company. Each of them is highly qualified for their position, intelligent and at the top of their game. Robbie’s staff have different reasons for having committed so much of their lives to Core, usually to the detriment of their personal lives, and each is dangerously close to being able to put their finger on the undefinable thing that is wrong with the bog picture. No one understand how the blue box technology works. Barnes does a terrific job of maintaining the suspense and I was on pins and needles throughout my reading, wondering if the house of cards was going to come tumbling down due to inside forces or to the simultaneous threats coming from outside the company.
Robbie Case is a deeply flawed character- stemming from both his childhood and his strange personality mix of hubris and naivete. Some of the novel started getting a little bit repetitive to me as he goes through the same motions while trying to figure out a solution that will help the company and release him from the burden that he has been carrying. Though I found what Robbie did to be reprehensible I really wanted him to be able to figure things out for the sake of the people that worked at Core.
If you have advanced knowledge of computers and business acumen then it would be very easy to get into this one on the perils of not integrity- or the lack thereof- in big business. The how’s it going to end aspect really keeps the book moving along and it manages to stay interesting even though the entire thing takes place inside the same office building. There are some truly gripping scenes when the blue boxes that Core manufactures come under attack. This was definitely a suspenseful read.