Welcome to our Saturday Spotlight, here on Alternative-Read.com – Today we are really pleased to welcome bestselling author, Reece Hirsch
Black Nowhere by Reece Hirsch is a fast-paced read that will have readers question the benefits of social media. The story explores the price of success, how far is someone willing to go to achieve that success, and how can female FBI agents succeed in a male dominated world?
Scarily realistic it is based on the true story of Ross Ulbricht, the young man who founded the Dark Web market place Silk Road, and became a drug kingpin. In the book, brilliant college student Nate Fallon starts a website on the “Dark Web.” He wants to see how efficient he can make the illegal drug trade by creating a kind of eBay for illicit pharmaceuticals and other black-market products. Not only does he end up making more money than he’d ever dreamed possible, he draws the attention of FBI Special Agent Lisa Tanchik and a Mexican criminal drug organization represented by the mysterious “El Chingon.”
Special Agent Lisa Tanchik is the best at taking down cybercriminals. After the FBI discovers an on-line multibillion-dollar black-market, she is tasked with finding the creator and bringing him to justice. Donning one of her many digital disguises, Tanchik goes undercover into the network. Although readers find out that she has struggles with alcohol abuse and depression, she still comes across as relatable, confident, and knowledgeable in her attempt to bring down the villain Nate Fallon.
Besides being a riveting thriller-mystery this novel explores the front in the war on drugs. Technology can be very useful, but it also has its demons, and this story shows that in graphic terms.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story?
Reece Hirsch: The character of Nate Fallon was inspired by the true story of Ross Ulbricht, the young man who founded the Dark Web market place Silk Road. When I read the reporting about Ulbricht, I could never quite understand how this smart, likeable, middle-class kid evolved into a criminal kingpin who allegedly ended up ordering hits to protect his empire. When I wrote the character of Nate Fallon, I was trying to get inside that type of person’s head in a way that a journalist can’t and show, step by step, how his initial idealism gave way to the dark side. At his hearing, the judge said, “There is a lot of good in you, but a lot of bad also. I am putting you away for the bad part.”
EC: Through Nate did you explore tech companies?
RH: Yes. What went wrong for him and his website is what happens a lot for tech companies, as they view disruption as positive. Yet, disruption can be negative for a lot of society.
EC: How would you describe Nate?
RH: Naïve, bright, capable, personally likeable, ambitious, cocky, sensitive, and ruthless. He has his ego tied up in his creation, a successful start-up tech company. I think in the end, he turned to a bad guy.
EC: Did you personally go on the Dark Web?
RH: My portrayal of the Dark Web marketplace Kyte is fairly true-to-life. Anyone who downloads the Tor browser and searches the Dark Web will still find a host of sites selling illegal drugs that look very much like Kyte. To research the Dark Web, I read everything that I could find about Silk Road. I also downloaded the Tor browser myself and did some exploring on the Dark Web, which can feel a little like swimming with the sharks. I did limit my exploration and only dipped my toe in. I also cut myself loose from the facts of the case and invented characters and incidents to tell the best story.
EC: You talk of the typical FBI Agent?
RH: People think of that square jaw look. I wanted to imagine a cyber specialist who might not fit in to that stereotype. There is still the old school mentality. As I put in the book, they are described as “geeks with guns.” I think people like Lisa still have an obstacle to overcome, while trying to advance through the FBI. This story had Lisa take the lead, but in the real take-down there were a lot of different agencies involved, all fighting for that glory.
EC: How would you describe Lisa?
RH: A badass, confident, and someone with special talents who is able to develop an on-line persona. She is a technology geek who is blunt. To the consternation of her fellow FBI agents she enjoys TV shows like “Firefly” and “Buffy The Vampire.”
EC: You also discuss depression?
RH: Lisa suffers from it. I wanted to show how it can be a real problem for people. Even though she grapples with it, she is able to succeed in life despite it. It does not get cured, but can be managed, which is what Lisa strives for. I would describe her as a functioning alcoholic, but throughout the course of the book she tries to overcome it.
EC: It is impossible to talk of Nate’s company Kyte without speaking of selling drugs?
RH: I recognized that with the use of the Internet there is a whole new fight on the War on Drugs. I wanted to put in the Libertarian ethos of so many tech companies: if technology can do something it should be allowed to do it without government interference. This is the attitude of Nate Fallon. I hope the book makes the point, just because technology can do something doesn’t mean it should.
EC: Is the theme greed versus morals?
RH: As Nate Fallon achieves more success it is greed and ego that drives him. Lisa realizes that the Kyte company does moral harm. Because she lost her sister to an opioid and alcohol overdose, Lisa sees Kyte leaving victims in its wake.
EC: Are Lisa’s tactics questionable, specifically entrapment?
RH: She does what is common in cyber investigations. In the real investigation, they also let the founder believe they were fellow drug dealers. In a sense Lisa went undercover. Since she did not suggest or initiate, it would not be entrapment.
EC: Sometimes the Internet brings out people’s worst impulses?
RH: It connects directly to one of the most disturbing themes in the book, people’s truest selves, which is only revealed when they were telling lies. At another point in the book Nate says that “people are free on the Dark Web because they’re wearing masks, and that liberates them.” His buddy Hardwick responds, “Maybe they behave badly because they’re wearing masks. That’s why bank robbers wear them.” Nate Fallon does criminal things on-line that he would not have the strength to do in the real world. He does not see the harm in immediate terms.
EC: What do you want readers to get out of the book?
RH: I wanted to portray in a realistic way the harm that drugs are doing. Dark Web market places are a growing staple of the drug trade. When Nate launches Kyte, he is full of libertarian ideas about the merits of conducting an online marketplace that is free from government oversight or regulation, even if it involves the sale of illegal drugs. As the story progresses and the situation with Kyte dissolves, I think the flaws in Nate’s view of the world become apparent.
EC: Can you tell us about your next book?
RH: The second book in this series is called Dark Tomorrow. It explores the fine line between cyber-crime and an act of cyber-warfare.
If you liked this interview
Max Allan Collins talks…
Chasing a cybercriminal into the pitch-black heart of the Dark Web.
Special Agent Lisa Tanchik is the best at taking down cybercriminals. So when the FBI discovers a multibillion-dollar black market online, she’s tasked with finding the creator and bringing him to justice. Donning one of her many digital disguises, Tanchik goes undercover into the network.
Brilliant college student Nate Fallon started his site as an idealistic experiment. But his platform has made illegal trade not only more efficient—but also more dangerous. Now the FBI aren’t the only ones out to get him. As profits soar, a criminal organization casts its monstrous gaze on Fallon, and danger leaps from cyberspace into reality.
Feeling pressure from both sides of the law, Fallon is forced to make a decision with shattering consequences. Can Agent Tanchik find Fallon before his dangerous infrastructure falls into the wrong hands?