A long time ago, at least in terms of computers, John Sandford wrote a couple of novels about a master programmer named Kidd. Writing under his real name, John Camp, Sandford created a character on the cutting edge of technology. Kidd's first case, published in 1989, was The Fool's Run. The novel was reissued in ’96, reprinted in ’04, and I read it just recently. By the time they got to me, Kidd's adventures looked positively Stone Age, a lot like the action in the movie "War Games." Nevertheless, this little thriller is worth a look: just keep an open mind.
Kidd, a top-notch programmer and darned good painter, was doing a water color of his favorite sandbar when a long-legged blonde offered him a job - hacking, not painting. His assignment: stall development of one company's top-secret plane so his employer's competing jet would be bought by the DoD. His main reason to accept had nothing to do with the blonde's legs; it's that the target gained an edge by stealing the technology. For that reason, plus a million in untraceable cash, he accepted.
Kidd assembled a team: LuEllen, his master thief, and his grifter Dace. Thus begins the con. Much of the research would be performed by a fourth, unseen member of the team; an honest-to-gosh hacker - handle “Bobby” – who would be compensated in computer time on a BBS. Yep: it’s definitely1989...
Once the breaking and entering was out of the way and LuEllen could relax (with Dace), Kidd trotted out his own keyboard. For weeks, he drilled down into the target company's systems, disrupting at will and sowing havoc wherever possible… until everything went south in a hail of bullets. Would the three team members survive - and would they ever figure out what The Fool's Run was really all about?
For a first novel, Camp/Sandford managed a fairly good plot. His characters are likeable and well-developed, in particular his main character, Kidd. That double-sided personality - geek and artist - seems a prototype for Sandford's Virgil Flowers, who's a writer as well as a cop. Readers will find lots of action and sufficient sex to make a virgin spinster blush slightly.
The plot’s a little far-fetched, particularly when Camp drops in some off-the-wall "German mob" subplot. While some readers find Kidd's "cutting-edge" technology - 1200 baud dialup, IBM 8286 chips and dot-matrix printers – laughably out of date, in reality it’s no more bothersome than historic novels with muskets, powderhorns, and bags of shot. What is bothersome about the plot is Kidd's on-line source, Bobby, who does the vast majority of the hacking. I'd have preferred that Kidd be the one who prowled phone and credit card company computers for his research.
All in all, The Fool's Run is a fun novel, one that won’t overly tax a reader's brain. There’s a little sex, some gore, a bit of hacking, and finally well-deserved revenge: what's not to like?