Hooked is a conspiracy thriller with an interesting protagonist and chilling idea at its center. Ever wonder why you can't drag yourself away from your e-mail or can't put down your cell phone? As author Matt Richtel will tell you, you're hooked. Unfortunately, a confusing plot, shallow characters, and stupendous ending make the book not quite so compelling.
Nat Idle is passing time, drinking coffee in an Internet cafe, when a woman drops a note on his table as she hurries by. Seized by an impulse, he jumps up to follow her out of the cafe only to see her drive away. He looks at the note, which tells him to get out of the cafe immediately, and is sure he recognizes the deceased love-of-his-life's handwriting. The next moment, the cafe explodes, and Nat is hurled to the ground where he loses the note.
Thus begins Nat's odyssey. Not your average medical journalist, Nat had finished medical school but become disillusioned, never took his boards, and took up freelance writing. This was something his girlfriend, budding venture capitalist Annie Kindle, had liked about him, his freedom from the race to over-achieve.
Nat is obsessed with the cafe note because, even after several years, he is still in mourning for Annie. He is inundated with memories of their perfect time together as he tries to find out who the mysterious woman was who warned him out of the cafe.
Nat tracks down the lone survivor of the blast who was inside the cafe at the time, a waitress named Erin Coultran. Nat and Erin join forces and retrieve the laptop of a cafe regular and friend to Erin, on which they discover a hidden program protected by the strongest encryption. Nat and Erin try to find out the meaning of the hidden program, and things get dangerous. It becomes clear that the laptop has much greater significance than either Erin or Nat suspected, and they are not the only ones interested in it.
Hooked did not hook me right away. I thought Nat's attachment to Annie was completely unrealistic; their relationship had been too idyllic (they fought only once in a year of going out). As it turns out, this is a plot device which is neatly explained at the end. The same can be said of the whole first half of the book. After reaching the mid-point and the dots slowly start to connect, the story picks up speed, as if going downhill after lumbering up a mountain. The end is fast and furious, and when I got there, I did not want to put the book down.
Which not to say I found the experience of reading Hooked satisfying. While loose ends are gathered and incredible plot points explained, it still feels far-fetched. I found Nat's being a doctor drop-out the most interesting element of the story, but the ramifications of his decision are not explored deeply. In fact, we don't get to know anything but the surface of any character.
All might have been forgiven if the plot had been credible, but I did not find it so. If you really like conspiracy stories, though, Hooked may do nicely. But be forewarned — you may never look at your computer the same way again.