Before the multi-million, runaway bestseller The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown set his razor-sharp research and storytelling skills on the most powerful intelligence organization on earth--the National Security Agency (NSA), an ultra-secret, multibillion-dollar agency many times more powerful than the CIA.
When the NSA's invincible code-breaking machine encounters a mysterious code it cannot break, the agency calls its head cryptographer, Susan Fletcher, a brilliant and beautiful mathematician. What she uncovers sends shock waves through the corridors of power. The NSA is being held hostage...not by guns or bombs, but by a code so ingeniously complex that if released it would cripple U.S. intelligence.
Caught in an accelerating tempest of secrecy and lies, Susan Fletcher battles to save the agency she believes in. Betrayed on all sides, she finds herself fighting not only for her country but for her life, and in the end, for the life of the man she loves.
From the underground hallways of power to the skyscrapers of Tokyo to the towering cathedrals of Spain, a desperate race unfolds. It is a battle for survival--a crucial bid to destroy a creation of inconceivable genius...an impregnable code-writing formula that threatens to obliterate the post-cold war balance of power. Forever.
Whilst this book is nowhere near as exciting or popular as DVC was, it still is a very high paced, page turning thriller, set in a variety of locales, and very entertaining.
Susan Fletcher, as a character, appears to have everything - Beautiful, uber-intelligent, good shoes...everything (and of course all of her male colleagues secretly lust after her) David Becker is her boyfriend/fiance (I don't think they are sure either of whether they are engaged or not), who is sent by her boss on a secret mission to Spain, despite the fact that he is not employed by the NSA to recover any items that can be found after the death of a man who has designed an algorithm that can not be cracked by any machine. Before he died, the man, Ensei Tankado, a former employee of NSA, threatens to sell the algorithm to the highest bidder, in effect holding the NSA to ransom because it would not be able to perform it's major task - that is to provide intelligence on any possible terrorist plots, or other major security problems. There are only two passkeys in the world that can stop the complete degeneration of mainland security, and that is what David Becker is sent to obtain from Spain. As he tracks down the passkey (which is inscribed in the band of a ring), he is followed by a hired assassin who is leaving a trail of bodies behind him as he tracks Becker.
With scenes set in both America and Spain, the action in both locations runs at a cracking pace, with great tension and twists and turns throughout the narrative. I did think that the ending where all the people had to work out the secret code lost a little of the pacing, but all's well that ends well. I have read reviews of this book where details were provided about how unlikely the scenario was because this couldn't ever happen (because you would never have such a big computer that had 3000 different connections or whatever) but those types of things don't really bother me much as I see these kinds of books as purely escapist drama, although given that this book was originally written in 1998 it is interesting to see where Brown's imagination took him (and I don't believe he has been sued for plagiarism for this book!).
As far as characterisation go, Dan Brown's characters are a bit two dimensional, but I do enjoy reading his books when I want a change from my ordinary reading material.