Positioning his novel somewhere between the world of a dot.com thriller and something analogous to a Detective Colombo television episode, Tom Evslin's hackoff.com falls effortlessly into the recent wave of fiction narratives that depict the euphoria of the boom and bust of the stock market in the late 1990s.
Evslin begins his narrative with a press release issued by Eve Gross, Chief Marketing Office of a company called hackoff.com announcing that its CEO, Larry Lazard, was found dead in his corporate office of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
CEO Larry Lazard was an ex-convict who pleaded guilty to the crime of attacking or as he termed it, "Gotcha," the credit card files of a number of major banks.
He served six months of a nine-month sentence in a federal penitentiary for white collar criminals. Apparently, as Lazard stated, "Gotcha" was not created to do harm but rather to illustrate the vulnerability of the financial systems to hackers. In fact, Lazard did not monetarily profit from his escapades, as he neither sold the credit card numbers he downloaded nor used them for his own personal gain. However, when he was released from prison, he put his knowledge to good use when he created a company called hackoff.com that would in fact prevent such attacks in the future particularly against e-commerce sites.
Lazard and his CFO Donna Langhorne were quite an ambitious team when they decided to take hackoff.com public. They hired the investment banking firm of Barcourt & Brotherson- a firm they felt could tell a credible story to potential investors concerning hackoff.com. However, they had their work cut out for them, as not only did they have to convince investors that Lazard had been rehabilitated but also that they had to convince investors that hackoff.com's practice of receiving equity or shares from companies purchasing the licenses instead of cash was not so bad, as hackoff.com is not only a software company but also a holding company of several promising e-commerce web sites.
Author Tom Evslin, as was the case with Larry Lazard, similarly founded a company that went public during the Internet bubble. However, Evslin lived to tell his story and no doubt the knowledge he gained from bringing his enterprise public helped in neatly interweaving his own experiences into his riveting narrative. He effectively captures the smoke and mirrors method used by investment bankers and traders from the time a project is conceived to the actual approval by the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). Methods and practices that very often are unethical and that sometimes border on fraud in order to market a company's stock to potential investors.
Thrown into the narrative is the prospect that Larry did not commit suicide but was murdered. All kinds of scenarios are explored by Detective Mark Cohen including Larry's involvement with outsourcing some of hackoff.com's programming to Palestinians from Jenin even against the strong objections of its principal programmer Dom Montain who is against showing the company's source code.
How it all ends I leave as a mystery for the reader to find out. The single disappointment of hackoff.com is that I found the ending was somewhat confusing, nonetheless, it is a compelling read supported by well-defined ancillary characters and some engaging subplots.