Sunday, 16 December 2012

Lord R. Benson: iPlot (2012)

Edition: Marador, 2012
Review number: 1470

A simple but arresting idea sets off this thriller: a couple pick up the wrong iPad after an airport security check when travelling to Australia, and find that it is fill of files about terrorism, including copies of hate mail sent to the Australian Prime Minister Carla Moore. The documents are fairly swiftly erased, the iPad having a feature that makes it possible for the owner to delete documents on a lost device. When Carla Moore falls ill suddenly, they suspect that there might be a link between the event and this iPad, but, having nothing concrete to show the police, they need to investigate for themselves.

iPlot starts slowly, and I found the basic idea of the swapped iPads difficult to believe: surely it can't be the case that there is no security to stop unauthorised users accessing the content on an iPad without entering a password? I'd be surprised if there were no apps to add biometric authentication capabilities such as iris scanning to iPad authentication. I am not an iPad user, but the answer to both questions appears to be yes, from a quick search on google, though it seems to be possible to bypass iPad authentication; this is a list of biometric authentication apps. So the idea that it would be possible to pick another person's iPad and only realise it is not your own when you see it doesn't contain the film you planned to watch on your flight - especially as the iPad concerned contains seriously sensitive data. My doubts made it hard to accept the verisimilitude of the story from the beginning.

There were other flaws which did not help. There are some rather clunky passages of prose, including the second chapter, which consists of lengthy and dull extracts from the documents on the laptop, including information about the death of Alexander Litvinenko, which is likely to be fairly familiar to anyone who has followed the news over the last few years, at least in the UK. This material could have been better introduced, and there is no need for so much of it, just a few bits and pieces to establish the type of content which is stored in the iPad. Anyone who has watched shows like Spooks or Homeland will already have a pretty good idea of what these documents will be like, so it will feel like familiar territory which could be skipped to many readers. There is something of a tendency to over-explain the background throughout, especially as many of the topics involved (the iPads, the terrorist plotting, the science) are likely to be of interest and fairly well known to potential readers, who I suspect will be - I hesitate slightly to say - geeks like me, who will be drawn in by the iPad idea.

The characters are poorly drawn; they all seem to have the same personality, pretty much, and even their physical descriptions are similar in many cases - this is a world of good looking, intelligent, and basically nice people.

But there are good sides to iPlot too. The story builds to its climax well, and eventually the most cynical reader will be drawn in. In terms of the plotting, I would have liked to have seen more use made of the iPads after they set the plot in motion, but the finale of iPlot was good anyway. I liked the technological and scientific aspects of the novel, even if they were over-explained, but I wanted to enjoy iPlot as a whole more than I did. My rating - 6/10.

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