The Devil's Code (Kidd Series #3)

The Devil's Code (Kidd Series #3)

4.2 29
by John Sandford

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When Kidd—artist, computer whiz, and professional criminal—learns of a colleague’s murder, he doesn’t buy the official story: that a jittery security guard caught the hacker raiding the files of a high-tech Texas corporation. It’s not what his friend was looking for that got him killed. It’s what he already knew. For Kidd and

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When Kidd—artist, computer whiz, and professional criminal—learns of a colleague’s murder, he doesn’t buy the official story: that a jittery security guard caught the hacker raiding the files of a high-tech Texas corporation. It’s not what his friend was looking for that got him killed. It’s what he already knew. For Kidd and LuEllen, infiltrating the firm is the first move. Discovering the secrets of its devious entrepreneur is the next. But it’s more than a secret—it’s a conspiracy. And it’s landed Kidd and LuEllen in the cross-hairs of an unknown assassin hellbent on conning the life out of the ultimate con artists…

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Fascinating…crime fiction doesn’t have nearly enough droll master thieves like Kidd and his stunning partner in righteous crime, LuEllen.” —The Los Angeles Times

“Plenty of stirring action…edgy and provocative…Kidd’s return [is] welcome news for Sandford fans.” —Publishers Weekly

“Filled with great atmosphere, characters, and exceptional drama, The Devil’s Code is truly vintage Sandford.” —The Stuart News (Stuart, FL)

“Sandford obviously loves Kidd, taking him to humorous and/or technological extremes.”—Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“Good thrillers are usually character-driven, and The Devil’s Code is a good thriller.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[The Devil’s Code] is action-filled and good fun.” —St. Petersburg Times
Our Review
A Criminal to Die For
The pseudonymous John Sandford is best known for his durable series of suspense novels (Night Prey, Eyes of Prey, etc.) featuring Minneapolis homicide detective Lucas Davenport. But earlier in his career, writing under his given name of John Camp, Sandford produced a pair of striking -- and very different -- thrillers featuring the artist, hacker, and occasional criminal known, simply, as Kidd. Nine years after his farewell appearance in The Empress Files, Kidd makes a welcome return in a cleverly conceived cyberthriller called, appropriately, The Devil's Code.

Kidd is an intriguingly contradictory antihero: a successful painter who supplements his income through illegal computer activities, a pragmatist who believes in the predictive qualities of the tarot. His latest adventure begins with a pair of enigmatic, seemingly unrelated murders. First, Terence Lighter, a midlevel bureaucrat for the National Security Agency, is shot to death outside his Glen Burnie home. One day later, Jack Morrison, a fellow hacker and former associate of Kidd's, is likewise shot to death, ostensibly while breaking into the data banks of AmMath, a high-tech firm specializing in the development of encryption software. Shortly afterward, Morrison's sister, convinced that her brother was an innocent victim, enlists Kidd's aid in uncovering the circumstances that led to Jack's death.

Kidd, along with some colorful cohorts from his checkered past, soon finds himself imperiled on two related fronts. First, his investigation into AmMath's shadier dealings inadvertently triggers a second series of murders. At the same time, his supposed connection with a mythical hacker/terrorist group named Firewall makes him the target of an intense, highly publicized federal investigation. Kidd's attempts to exonerate Jack Morrison, unearth the details of a treasonous conspiracy, and avoid capture by the combined forces of the FBI and NSA form the substance of this furiously paced, unfailingly entertaining novel.

Although The Devil's Code may be less viscerally exciting than the Lucas Davenport books, it still offers a full display of its author's many gifts. These include his clean, no-frills style, his flawless ear for dialogue, and his precise reporter's eye for character and setting. But the most impressive aspect of The Devil's Code -- and the true heart of the book -- is its convincing re-creation of the arcane world of the professional hacker. Sandford's familiarity with that world, together with his easy mastery of abstruse technical details, enhances the narrative at every turn, lending it an air of seamless, unobtrusive authenticity.

--Bill Sheehan

Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has just been published by Subterranean Press (

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Would that Sandford, creator of the marvelous and bestselling Prey thrillers, had heeded Thomas Wolfe's advice about going home again. Instead, he's resurrected a hero from his previous crime series (The Fool's Run, etc.) in his latest thriller, which begins when the infamous Kidd--artist, computer expert and master criminal--is called in to investigate the mysterious death of a former colleague in Texas. Working with the victim's sister, Kidd slowly uncovers a massive computer conspiracy masterminded by St. John Corbeil, the president of a Texas microchip company, whose excesses spiral out of control when the company's product (after gaining a foothold in the world of intelligence) bombs in the commercial marketplace. At first Kidd is inclined to steer clear of the seamier side of the conspiracy, but when several members of his own high-powered criminal group are implicated and the National Security Agency begins scrutinizing his operation, he brings in his part-time partner and lover, LuEllen, to help with the investigation. Their probe turns dangerous when the corporate kingpin hires a pair of assassins to hunt down Kidd, eventually forcing him to focus on a mano-a-mano duel with Corbeil. Sandford pens plenty of stirring action scenes as Kidd's encore unfolds, and it's clear that the author likes playing with his hero's shady sensibility and the chemistry he enjoys with the versatile and erotic LuEllen. But despite his edgy and sometimes provocative narrative style, Sandford struggles to bring a sense of urgency to the narrative. Kidd's return will be welcome news for Sandford fans, but the tepid plot makes his comeback a pedestrian affair. 400,000 first printing; major ad/promo. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Before the chilling Prey novels, Sandford made his mark with computer genius Kidd. Now Kidd is back, but his colleague Jack Morrison is missing, and Kidd himself is being targeted in a national manhunt. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Kirkus Reviews
Sandford reaches back to the dim past before his fabulously popular Lucas Davenport thrillers (Easy Prey, p. 327, etc.) to resurrect his even pulpier hero, artist/hacker/design-thief Kidd (The Empress File, 1992, not reviewed), for this tale of computer skullduggery on an epic scale.

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Kidd Series, #3
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.74(w) x 10.88(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


A beautiful fall night in Glen Burnie, a Thursday, autumn leaves kicking along the streets. A bicycle with a flickering headlamp, a dog running alongside, a sense of quiet. A good night for a cashmere sportcoat or small black pearls at an intimate restaurant down in the District; maybe white Notre Dame—style tapers and a rich controversial senator eating trout with a pretty woman not his wife. Like that.

    Terrence Lighter would have none of it.

    Not tonight, anyway. Tonight, he was on his own, walking back from a bookstore with a copy of SmartMoney in his hand and a pornographic videotape in his jacket pocket. He whistled as he walked. His wife, April, was back in Michigan visiting her mother, and he had a twelve-pack of beer in the refrigerator and a bag of blue-corn nachos on the kitchen counter. And the tape.

    The way he saw it was this: he'd get back to the house, pop a beer, stick the tape in the VCR, spend a little time with himself, and then switch over to Thursday Night Football. At halftime, he'd call April about the garden fertilizer. He could never remember the numbers, 12-6-4 or 6-2-3 or whatever. Then he'd catch the second half of the game, and after the final gun, he'd be ready for the tape again.

    An unhappy thought crossed his mind. Dallas: What they hell were they doing out in Dallas, with those recon photos? Where'd they dig those up? How'd that geek get his hands on them? Something to be settled next week. He hadn't heard back from Dallas, and ifhe hadn't heard by Monday afternoon, he'd memo the deputy director just to cover his ass.

    That was for next week. Tonight he had the tape, the beer, and the nachos. Not a bad night for a fifty-three-year-old, high-ranking bureaucrat with a sexually distant wife. Not bad at all ...

    Lighter was a block and a half from his home when a man stepped out of a lilac bush beside a darkened house. He was dressed all in black, and Lighter didn't see him until the last minute. The man said nothing at all, but his arm was swinging up.

    Lighter's last living thought was a question. "Gun?"

    A silenced 9mm. The man fired once into Lighter's head and the impact twisted the bureaucrat to his right. He took one dead step onto the grass swale and was down. The man fired another shot into the back of the dead man's skull, then felt beneath his coat for a wallet. Found it. Felt the videotape and took that, too.

    He left the body where it had fallen and ran, athletically, lightly, across the lawn, past the lilac, to the back lot line, and along the edge of a flower garden to the street. He ran a hundred fifty yards, quiet in his running shoes, invisible in his black jogging suit. He'd worked out the route during the afternoon, spotting fences and dogs and stone walls. A second man was waiting in the car on a quiet corner. The shooter ran up to the corner, slowed, then walked around it. If anyone had been coming up the street, they wouldn't have seen him running ...

    As they rolled away, the second man asked, "Everything all right?"

    "Went perfect." The shooter dug through the dead man's wallet. "We even got four hundred bucks and a fuck flick."

They were out again the next night.

    This time, the target was an aging '70s rambler in the working-class duplex lands southwest of Dallas. A two-year-old Porsche Boxster was parked in the circular driveway in front of the house. Lights shone from a back window, and a lamp with a yellow shade was visible through a crack in the drapes of the big front window. The thin odor of bratwurst was in the air—a backyard barbecue, maybe, at a house further down the block. Kids were playing in the streets, a block or two over, their screams and shouts small and contained by the distance, like static on an old vinyl disk.

    The two men cut across a lawn as dry as shredded wheat and stepped up on the concrete slab that served as a porch. The taller of the two touched the pistol that hung from his shoulder holster. He tried the front door: locked.

    He looked at the shorter man, who shrugged, leaned forward, and pushed the doorbell.

* * *

John James Morrison was the same age as the men outside his door, but thinner, taller, without the easy coordination; a gawky, bespectacled Ichabod Crane with a fine white smile and a strange ability to draw affection from women. He lived on cinnamon-flavored candies called Hot Tamales and Diet Coke, with pepperoni pizza for protein. He sometimes shook with the rush of sugar and caffeine, and he liked it.

    The men outside his door stressed exercise and drug therapy, mixed Creatine with androstenedione and Vitamins E, C, B, and A. The closest Morrison got to exercise was a habitual one-footed twirl in his thousand-dollar Herman Miller Aeron office chair, which he took with him on his cross-country consulting trips.

    Morrison and the chair rolled through a shambles of perforated wide-carriage printer paper and Diet Coke cans in the smaller of the rambler's two bedrooms. A rancid, three-day-old Domino's box, stinking of pepperoni and soured cheese, was jammed into an overflowing trash can next to the desk. He'd do something about the trash later. Right now, he didn't have the time.

    Morrison peered into the flat blue-white glow of the computer screen, struggling with the numbers, checking and rechecking code. An Optimus transportable stereo sat on the floor in the corner, with a stack of CDs on top of the right speaker. Morrison pushed himself out of his chair and bent over the CDs, looked for something he wouldn't have to think about. He came up with a Harry Connick Jr. disk, and dropped it in the changer. Love Is Here to Stay burbled from the speakers and Morrison took a turn around in the chair. Did a little dance step. Maybe another hit of caffeine ...

* * *

The doorbell rang.

    Eleven o'clock at night, and Morrison had no good friends in Dallas, nobody to come calling late. He took another two steps, to the office door, and looked sideways across the front room, through a crack in the front drapes. He could see the front porch. One or two men, their bulk visible in the lamplight. He couldn't see their faces, but he recognized the bulk.

    "Oh, shit." He stepped back into the office, clicked on a computer file, and dragged it to a box labeled Shredder. He clicked Shred, waited until the confirmation box came up, clicked Yes, I'm sure. The shredder was set to the highest level: if the file was completely shredded, it couldn't be recovered. But that would take time ...

    He had to make some. He killed the monitors, but let the computer run. He picked up his laptop, turned off the lights in the office, and pulled the door most of the way closed, leaving a crack of an inch or two so they could see the room was dark. Maybe they wouldn't go in right away, and the shredder would have more time to grind. The laptop he carried into the kitchen, turning it on as he walked. He propped it open on the kitchen counter, and pulled a stool in front of it.

    The doorbell rang again and he hurried out the door and called, "Just a minute." He looked back in the computer room, just a glance, and could see the light blinking on the hard drive. He was shredding only one gigabyte of the twenty that he had. Still, it would take time ...

    He was out of it. The man outside was pounding on the door.

    He headed back through the house, snapped on the living room overhead lights to let them know he was coming, looked out through the drapes—another ten seconds gone—and unlocked the front door. "Had to get my pants on," he said to the two men on the stoop. "What's up?"

They brought Morrison into the building through the back, up a freight elevator, through a heavily alarmed lock-out room at the top, and into the main security area. Corbeil was waiting.

    St. John Corbeil was a hard man; in his early forties, his square-cut face seamed with stress and sun and wind. His blue eyes were small, intelligent, and deeply set beneath his brow ridge; his nose and lips narrow, hawklike. He wore a tight, military haircut, with just a hint of a fifties flattop.

    "Mr. Morrison," he said. "I have a tape I want you to listen to."

    Morrison was nervous, but not yet frightened. There'd been a couple of threats back at the house, but not of violence. If he didn't come with them, they'd said, he would be dismissed on the spot, and AmMath would sue him for violating company security policies, industrial espionage, and theft of trade secrets. He wouldn't work for a serious company again, they told him.

    The threats resonated. If they fired him, and sued him, nobody would hire him again. Trust was all-important, when a company gave a man root in its computer system. When you were that deep in the computers, everything was laid bare, Everything. On the other hand, if he could talk with them, maybe he could deal. He might lose this job, but they wouldn't be suing him. They wouldn't go public.

    So he went with them. He and the escort drove in his car—"So we don't have to drag your ass all the way back here," the security guy said—while the second security agent said he'd be following. He hadn't yet shown up.

    So Morrison stood, nervously, shoulders slumped, like a peasant dragged before the king, as Corbeil pushed an audiotape into a tape recorder. He recognized the voice: Terrence Lighter. "John, what the hell are you guys doing out there? This geek shows up on my doorstep ..."

    Shit: they had him.

    He decided to tough it out. "I came across what I thought was anomalous work—nothing to do with Clipper, but it was obviously top secret and the way it was being handled ... it shouldn't have been handled that way," Morrison told Corbeil. He was standing like a petitioner, while Corbeil sat in a terminal chair. "When I was working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I was told that if I ever found an anomaly like that, I should report it at least two levels up, so that it couldn't be hidden and so that security problems could be fixed."

    "So you went to Lighter?"

    "I didn't think I had a choice. And you should remember that I did talk to Lighter," Morrison said. "Now, I think, we should give the FBI a ring. See what they say."

    "You silly cunt." Corbeil slipped a cell phone from a suit pocket, punched a button, waited a few seconds, then asked, "Anything?" Apparently not. He said, "Okay. Drop the disks. We're gonna go ahead on this end."

    Corbeil's security agent, who'd been waiting patiently near the door, looked at his watch and said, "If we're gonna do it, we better get it done. Goodie's gonna be starting up here in the next fifteen minutes and I gotta run around the building and get in place."

    Corbeil gave Morrison a long look, and Morrison said, "What?"

    Corbeil shook his head, got up, stepped over to the security agent, and said, "Let me."

    The agent slipped out his .40 Smith and handed it to Corbeil, who turned and pointed it at Morrison.

    "You better tell us what you did with the data or you're gonna get your ass hurt real bad," he said quietly.

    "Don't point the gun at me; don't point the gun ..." Morrison said.

    Corbeil could feel the blood surging into his heart. He'd always liked this part. He'd shot the Iraqi colonels and a few other ragheads and deer and antelope and elk and javelina and moose and three kinds of bear and groundhogs and prairie dogs and more birds than he could count; and it all felt pretty good.

    He shot Morrison twice in the chest. Morrison didn't gape in surprise, stagger, slap a hand to his wounds, or open his eyes wide in amazement. He simply fell down.

    "Christ, my ears are ringing," Corbeil said to the security agent. He didn't mention the sudden erection. "Wasn't much," he said. "Nothing like Iraq."

    But his hand was trembling when he passed over the gun. The agent had seen it before, hunting on the ranch.

    "Let's get the other shot done," the agent said.

    "Yes." They got the .38 from a desk drawer, wrapped Morrison's dead hand around it, and fired it once into a stack of newspapers.

    "So you better get going," Corbeil said. "I'll dump the newspapers."

    "I'll be to Goodie's right. That's your left," the agent said.

    "I know that," Corbeil said impatiently.

    "Well, Jesus, don't forget it," the agent said.

    "I won't forget it," Corbeil snapped.

    "Sorry. But remember. Remember. I'll be to your left. And you gotta reload now, and take the used shell with you ..."

    "I'll remember it all, William. This is my life as much as it is yours.

    "Okay." The agent's eyes drifted toward the crumbled form of Morrison. "What a schmuck."

    "We had no choice; it was a million-to-one that he'd find that stuff," Corbeil said. He glanced at his watch: "You better move."

Larry Goodie hitched up his gun belt, sighed, and headed for the elevators. As he did, the alarm buzzed on the employees' door and he turned to see William Hart checking through with his key card.

    "Asshole," Goodie said to himself. He continued toward the elevators, but slower now. Only one elevator ran at night, and Hart would probably want a ride to the top. As Hart came through, Goodie pushed the elevator button and found a smile for the security man.

    "How's it going, Larry?" Hart asked.

    "Slow night," Goodie said.

    "That's how it's supposed to be, isn't it?" Hart asked.

    "S'pose," Goodie said.

    "When was the last time you had a fast night?"

    Goodie knew he was being hazed and he didn't like it. The guys from TrendDirect were fine. The people with AmMath, the people from "Upstairs," were assholes. "Most of 'em are a little slow," he admitted. "Had some trouble with the card reader that one time, everybody coming and going ..."

    The elevator bell dinged at the tenth floor and they both got off. Goodie turned left, and Hart turned right, toward his office. Then Hart touched Goodie's sleeve and said, "Larry, was that lock like that?"

    Goodie followed Hart's gaze: something wrong with the lock on Gerald R. Kind's office. He stepped closer, and looked. Somebody had used a pry-bar on the door. "No, I don't believe it was. I was up here an hour ago," Goodie said. He turned and looked down the hall. The lights in the security area were out. The security area was normally lit twenty-four hours a day.

    "We better check," Hart said, dropping his voice.

    Hart eased open the office door, and Goodie saw that another door, on the other side, stood open. "Quiet," Hart whispered. He led the way through the door, and out the other side, into a corridor that led to the secure area. The door at the end of the hall was open, and the secure area beyond it was dark.

    "Look at that screen," Hart whispered, as they slipped down the hall. A computer screen had a peculiar glow to it, as if it had just been shut down. "I think there's somebody in there."

    "I'll get the lights," Goodie whispered back. His heart was thumping; nothing like this had ever happened.

    "Better arm yourself," Hart said. Hart slipped an automatic pistol out of a belt holster, and Goodie gulped and fumbled out his own revolver. He'd never actually drawn it before.

    "Ready?" Hart asked.

    "Maybe we ought to call the cops," Goodie whispered.

    "Just get the lights," Hart whispered. He barely breathed the words at the other man. "Just reach through, the switch is right inside."

    Goodie got to the door frame, reached inside with one hand, and somebody screamed at him: "NO!"

    Goodie jerked around and saw a ghostly oval, a face, and then WHAM! The flash blinded him and he felt as though he'd been hit in the ribs with a ball bat. He went down backwards, and saw the flashes from Hart's weapon straight over his head, WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM ...

    Goodie didn't count the shots, but his whole world seemed to consist of noise; then the back of his head hit the carpet and his mouth opened and he groaned, and his body was on fire. He lay there, not stirring, until Hart's face appeared in his line of vision: "Hold on, Larry, goddamnit, hold on, I'm calling an ambulance ... Hold on ..."

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Fascinating…crime fiction doesn’t have nearly enough droll master thieves like Kidd and his stunning partner in righteous crime, LuEllen.” —The Los Angeles Times

“Plenty of stirring action…edgy and provocative…Kidd’s return [is] welcome news for Sandford fans.” —Publishers Weekly

“Filled with great atmosphere, characters, and exceptional drama, The Devil’s Code is truly vintage Sandford.” —The Stuart News (Stuart, FL)

“Sandford obviously loves Kidd, taking him to humorous and/or technological extremes.” —Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“Good thrillers are usually character-driven, and The Devil’s Code is a good thriller.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[The Devil’s Code] is action-filled and good fun.” —St. Petersburg Times

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Devil's Code (Kidd Series #3) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
arlee50 More than 1 year ago
What else can be said......... It's a John Sandford book and it's well worth reading again and again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has a great plot that keeps the reader guessing. Kidd and LuEllen solve murders and take it to the bad guys. My husband and I both enjoyed it.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
If you like reading about murder mysteries and conspiracy, you will enjoy this novel by John Sandford! It is crazy how Kidd winds up in a big mess, but other than that it was alright. I personally didn't realize it was the third book of the Kidd series until I started reading it because I chose Sandford and this novel for an author project. If you want to read this then read the first two before this, it will make reading this one a lot easier. John Sandford has a talent for writing this kind of novel so I'm sure it would be a lot better by starting the series with the first book and not the third!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was hesitatant to read anything not fantasy, but this book hooked me right away. Sandford uses colorful characters and vivid descriptions to get the reader's attention. I'd recommend anyone to read this book, especially those who haven't read John Sandford before.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Kidd is an interesting enough character and always has been but the story just doesn't pull you in. I'm a fan of John Sandford and have been for years, which is why I actually read DEVIL'S CODE to the end. Sandford has already proven his writing skills, I just hoped for more effort.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A great follow-up to The Fool's Run and The Empress file. If you like the other Kidd novels, then you'll be pleased with this one! If you have bever read Sandford's Kidd series, you'll enjoy a great, plot-twisting, suspenseful, technological thriller. Good technical details to keep the tech-at-heart interested and good stroyline / suspense to keep those that like surprises pleased. A quick, enjoyable read. Looking forward (hopefully) to the next Kidd novel.