Azi Bello navigates the darker reaches of the internet from his shed in East Croydon. He is highly skilled, and on his own terms, ethical. He is driven by a sense of mission, creating false identities in order to draw out racists and haters and use what he learns against them.
Meanwhile, Kabir, another young British man, is working for Islamic State in Syria, creating click-friendly propaganda out of death and torture.
When Azi gets an appeal for help from an online friend he knows only as Sigma, he dares to come into the real world to fight a shadowy threat they aren’t even sure exists – the dark net site known as Gomorrah.
What follows is the fast-paced political thriller as the links between these disparate elements are revealed. Sigma draws Azi into both real and virtual worlds where no one is what they seem, where technology can be used both by Azi and against him, and where the man who lived his whole life online finds himself grappling with danger, disguise and desire across continents. At the same time Azi’s history and emotional life are gradually revealed.
I really enjoyed the technological elements of the book and the underlying political issues. By coincidence I’ve also been reading PW Singer and Emerson Brooking’s non-fiction LikeWar, on how state hackers and terrorists use social media to further their cause. This Is Gomorrah feels credible and LikeWar confirms that it is.
Author Tom Chatfield is a tech journalist, and he has clearly brought his skills into his fiction. He explains what Azi is doing (and what is being done to him) in a way that is intelligible but not simplistic.
I wasn’t always as absorbed by the plot but I loved the characterisation. Kabir’s actions are shocking but he is drawn in a way that makes him real and understandable. Azi is wry and self-deprecating, with an eye to the absurdities of contemporary culture.
We gradually learn about Azi’s past and how it made him what he is. His relationship with his childhood friend Ad is particularly poignant. Ad is also into tech but has a much more privileged and secure background than Azi and this plays into the complex dynamic between them.
There are lots of twists and reversals and drama and there are hints at the end that some of the characters in this book might live to fight another day. I’d be interested to see where they go next.
I received a copy of This Is Gomorrah from the publisher via Netgalley.
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Enjoyed this? Take a look at my review of Kill [redacted] by Anthony Good