When six computer users respond to an online message posted by “Snowflake,” they believe him to be just another crackpot with no way to carry out his threat of murder. When first one, then another, dies mysteriously, the police do not realize the killings are related since the victims have little in common except membership in the online service.
The killer finds it relatively easy to discover the real identities of most of his victims. One, however, poses more of a challenge. Ellis Hoile, a somewhat reclusive computer genius, is one intended victim who just might be smart enough to outmaneuver the killer.
The killer sends Ellis a computer game via the online service. The game contains a smaller program which is set up to read Ellis’s computer files and send information back to the killer. Yet Ellis is cautious. Before he loads the game, he reads every line of computer code it contains. When he realizes the real intent of the program, he begins trying to find out who sent the program, not knowing that at the same time the sender is a killer who is stalking Ellis.
From beginning to end, it is a race against time, with Ellis the unlikely hero who must untangle the elaborate web the killer has laid. Although the story takes place within the world of computer-users, even those readers who have yet to lift a mouse will find themselves drawn in. Finch’s novel is written clearly and believably, with a minimum of jargon and a maximum of expense.