When psychologically damaged M16 hacker Brigitte Sharp decodes encrypted messages which she believes are linked to her best friend’s murder, it pitches her back into a world she thought she’d left a long way behind: a treacherous landscape of moles, hard-ass Soviet agents, scarily ruthless bad guys, and cutting-edge spycraft. What’s an ex-goth girl to do when the odds are stacked against her and, in true techno-thriller style, she can’t be sure who to trust? Finding herself alone and on the run, Brigitte must unravel the devilish Exphoria Code before her opponents unleash a nuclear terrorism nightmare.
The Exphoria Code is Antony Johnston’s mainstream thriller debut and, like his graphic novel The Coldest City (aka the big screen actioner Atomic Blonde), it feels tailormade for a Hollywood franchise. Like almost everything Johnston writes, The Exphoria Code moves swiftly, is immediately engrossing, and has more than a ring of truth in its cloak-and-dagger shenanigans. Johnston is obviously a man who does his homework, and he knows Brigitte Sharp’s underworld background very well. Even when the story shoots off into occasionally unlikely directions, there’s still a disconcerting sense of authenticity to it. So what if the story is riddled with the usual stereotypes (Brigitte’s stuffy boss has more than a touch of Bond’s M about him) and it sometimes feels as if Johnston is hitting us with just a little bit too much research than is absolutely necessary? This is still a fast-paced read that gets the adrenalin surging, and Brigitte Sharp – like The Coldest City’s Lorraine Broughton – is a beautifully realised protagonist. Johnston seems to be cornering the market in convincingly-realised female spies but he writes every character equally as well and, just like in The Coldest City, there’s also a good injection of pre-noughties nostalgia. Read this with Fields of the Nephilim playing in the background and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
If you’re looking for an exciting new heroine and a thriller that will keep you reading long into the night, The Exphoria Code won’t disappoint. Personally, we can’t wait for the sequel…
THE EXPHORIA CODE / AUTHOR: ANTONY JOHNSTON / PUBLISHER: LIGHTNING BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW