The Bottom Line: A timely, compulsively readable political and legal thriller that wryly connects the terrors of the dark web with the fragile state of democracy. One of the year’s best thrillers.
In a world where activists like Julian Assange have become famous for extravagant government exposes, Ron Barak’s new political thriller imagines what is at stake for the hackers on the front lines. JK’s Code is named for the text-based key to the mystery that American cybersecurity buff Jake Klein, known as JK, developed to impress his older sister. Little did he know that one day it could be used in an attempt to save his own life.
In the novel’s early chapters, a brilliant Russian hacker named Leonid Gradsky takes a meeting with Russian President for Life Alexi Turgenev and demonstrates the power of his new computer program. Turgenev’s advisors soon come to the conclusion that the technology will enable them to manipulate the 2020 U.S. election results effectively and discreetly. They also initially assume that they can appropriate Gradsky’s election-manipulating solution at any time. Little do they know that the software is dependent on the innovation of a Kazhak developer named Cipher.
Enter JK, who soon discovers Gradsky’s real identity, and more importantly, that Turgenev is conspiring with the President of the United States to rig the election.
In the book’s early chapters, Barak’s burgeoning fan base may wonder what this all has to do with retired U.S. District Court Judge Cyrus Brooks and homicide detective Frank Lotello, whose names are the basis for the entire series. The connective tissue is Leah Klein Lotello, the older sister of Jake “JK” Klein, wife of Frank Lotello and step-mother of Charlie Lotello and Madison Lotello (if you didn’t get all that, don’t fear – Barak has generously added a cast of characters before the prologue). Leah also happens to be an attorney. To say much more about Cyrus and Frank’s involvement would add spoilers, but it’s safe to say that both play a significant role. Barak has created perhaps his most ingenious plot yet, one that maintains a coherent, suspenseful thread across two continents and the dark web while still carving out a hefty lift for Brooks and Lotello. The dynamic duo’s entrance also adds a layer of wry humor to the high stakes political and legal drama.
JK’s Code is a book that will captivate readers well beyond the 2020 election.