Kathleen Dougherty, Moth to the Flame (Diamond, 1991)
[originally posted 26Feb2002]
A little more attention to detail and a slightly better editor and Kathleen Dougherty might have been the next Tom Clancy, pushing out high-tech suspense thrillers that sold millions of copies. Moth to the Flame is better than your average spy thriller. You know that expression you see overused in reviews, “grabs hold and never lets go!”? This book fits the bill.
Charlie Silverthorne is an ex-NSA programmer with some nasty secrets in her past, most of which have to do with the way she left the NSA. She’s spent the past four years as the head programmer at a hole-in-the-wall computer store in Maryland, and never wants to get near classified material again. But one day a guy named Bill Targ shows up at the store where she works, says he’s NSA, and tells her they need her back. She refuses. Meanwhile, around the world, people are dying mysteriously, burning up with seemingly no provocation. A sudden outbreak of contagious spontaneous human combustion, or something more nefarious?
Dougherty knows how to keep the pages turning in this one. It’s definitely a keep-you-up-at-night book; lots of people dying mysteriously, shadowy government agents, and uncrackable computer programs set to take over the world. However, the book suffers in its attention to detail. Nothing unforgivable overlooked here, but the things that are overlooked do jar (e.g., mention is made a number of time of Vincent’s uncle, including two specific references to his leaving Vincent and his single mother, but we never find out why; also, in the prologue, the only non-American in the book to die dies, and the reader is left wondering why the deaths suddenly start happening specifically in America). And, as with all high-tech thrillers, some of what’s here seems amusingly dated eleven years after the book’s release. Remember the days when 19.2K modems were top of the line?
Still, the potholes in this particular road are minor ones at best. This one hasn’t been in print for quite a while, probably, but it’s well worth going out of your way to find if you’re a fan of action-heavy thrillers. *** ½