STARRED REVIEW
October 06, 2020

The Exphoria Code

By Antony Johnston
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Brilliant hacker-turned-MI6-agent Brigitte Sharp (she goes by “Bridge”) feels torn between opposing forces. She’s a member of the British intelligence agency’s elite cyber threat analytics unit and an excellent field agent, but she’s reluctant to leave desk duty since a failed mission three years ago. She’s close to her sister and friends but has become weary of lying to them to protect her cover. And her drive to seek justice has been tamped down by PTSD-fueled fear that she’ll harm someone because of her perceived incompetence.

Now, as Antony Johnston’s The Exphoria Code opens, Bridge’s life has come to a crisis point: Her boss and therapist are insisting she get back to fieldwork just as she learns her online friend Tenebrae_Z has been found dead—perhaps as a result of their attempts to decrypt mysterious ASCII (an electronic character encoding standard) art that the two came across online.

Bridge “had always thought of the truth as a mountain peak. . . . To reach it, you might have to negotiate tricky paths, shifting scree, falling boulders. But if you were persistent enough . . . you could eventually reach the summit and the truth would be revealed.” She comes up against a veritable mountain range of obstacles as she investigates Ten’s murder. For starters, the ASCII posts are related to a top-secret Anglo-French project involving military drones—a project that’s got a mole in its ranks, as well as plenty of dangerous people invested in keeping Bridge from finding out who the mole is or what nefariousness he or she is up to.

Johnston, perhaps best known for his graphic novel The Coldest City (which served as the source for the film Atomic Blonde), has once again created a heroine who’s as smart and savvy as she is badass. He lays a complex trail of clues, hazards and betrayals as Bridge goes undercover to track down the mole and ends up in tense interrogations, edge-of-your-seat chases and action-packed fights to the possible death. Can she unearth the mole before something terrible happens? Readers will thrill to the chase in this kickoff to a techno-thriller series that has at its center a hacker with a heart of gold—and nerves of steel.

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The Exphoria Code

The Exphoria Code

By Antony Johnston
Pegasus Crime
ISBN 9781643135274

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