Bleeding Edge: A Novel Summary

Thomas Pynchon

Bleeding Edge: A Novel

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Bleeding Edge: A Novel Summary

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Bleeding Edge is the 2013 fictional detective crime novel written by American author Thomas Pynchon. Set in 2001 New York, the story revolves around Maxine Tarnow, a formerly certified fraud examiner who becomes entangled in a complex web of criminal activity when she takes a new case involving a shady computer security firm. With her own unique methodology and loose sense of morals, Maxine must safely negotiate her way through a colorful array of Russian mobsters, drug dealers, bloggers, hackers, coders, angry entrepreneurs, scent-trackers, Arab terrorists, and more. Maxine also has her two young sons and ex-husband, Horst, to deal with at home. Thematically, the book touches on the zeitgeist of the 9/11 tragedy, as well as the startup internet age, when mega-tech companies like Google and Microsoft had yet to become such powerful entities. Bleeding Edge has been called “a necessary novel and one that literary history has been waiting for” by Slate.com, a “hilarious, shrewd, and disquieting metaphysical mystery” by Booklist, and “exemplary…dazzling and ludicrous” by The New York Times. The novel was also named as a New York Times Notable Book of 2013.

Narrated in the third-person limited omniscient perspective, the surreal and dreamlike story begins in New York City on the first day of spring, 2001. A woman named Maxine Tarnow, who is a formerly certified fraud examiner, walks her two sons, Otis and Ziggy, to school before going to work. On her way, Maxine is approached by a man named Reg Despard, a documentary filmmaker who expresses concern over a shady computer security firm called Hashlingrz. Reg was hired by Hashlingrz to make a documentary about the company, but is stifled by their financial secrecy. Maxine investigates the firm and its geeky young CEO, Gabriel Ice, and learns that the firm’s finances don’t add up. Ice is known for boldly recruiting new talent, and is believed to be in business with the federal government as well. Maxine discovers large payments being made from Hashlingrz to now defunct companies, including a website that has ties to an Arabian money laundering scheme using hawala, a value transfer system. Once Maxine makes this discovery, she notices she’s being followed.

One of Maxine’s best friends, Vyrva McElmo, explains that her husband’s Deep Web tech company, DeepArcher, is sought by Ice and Hashlingrz. Maxine speaks with Rocky Slagiatt, a venture capitalist investor behind Ice’s enterprises, who expresses concerns about the company’s activity. As she continues to investigate, Maxine contacts friend March Kelleher, mother of Ice’s wife, Tallis. March loathes Ice and has a feeling he’s a criminal, and asks Maxine to interview Tallis. Maxine does so, finds that Tallis has suspicions of Ice’s finances, but denies an audit. Maxine’s leads put her in contact with Nicholas Windust, a government agent with ties to Hashlingrz as well. Windust pressures Maxine to interrogate her Israeli brother-in-law, Avram Deschler, for info about Mossad hacking efforts. Maxine and Windust have a checkered past built around casual sex. Rocky introduces Maxine to Igor, a Russian heavy, who is also friends with March. Maxine and March deliver money to March’s ex-husband, Sid, who takes the women on his boat for a drop-off and is pursued by patrol boats down the East River before making a narrow escape.

Later, Maxine encounters Lester Traipse, CEO of hwgaahwgh.com, which is a defunct graphics firm once purchased by Ice. Traipse confides that he fears for his life, and later turns up dead of an apparent suicide. With the help of an expert scent detective, Conkling Speedwell, the smell of “Club 9:30” cologne is detected at the crime scene, indicating murder. Meanwhile, Reg informs Maxine that he accidentally stepped in the wrong room at Hashlingrz and found a cabal of Arabs working on a mysterious device. Reg also sends footage he shot of a crew of white men working on a Stinger missile, target-practicing on a Boeing 767. Maxine relays the tape to March, who posits that President Bush has a nefarious plot under his sleeve, and needs Hashlingrz to realize it. Maxine is cautious of the claim and where the investigation may lead, but pursues it anyway. Later, Maxine discovers that Club 9:30 cologne has been discontinued, but that Windust still wears it. Maxine thinks Windust must be involved in Traipse’s murder. As she continues to investigate Traipse’s death as well as Hashlingrz, she is exhorted to keep her distance. Unflinching, Maxine persists, contacting Igor, who puts Maxine in contact with two hackers, Misha and Grisha. Maxine asks the pair to identify the weapons in Reg’s videos. Misha and Grisha assure Maxine that the weapons are indeed Stringers, and identify the mysterious Arab weapon as a Vircator, which destroys electronic devices by emitting a powerful electromagnetic pulse. Afterwards, March airs the video on her weblog.

On September 8, 2001, Maxine attends a giant dot-com gala sponsored by Ice. While everyone parties, Maxine runs into Felix, a teenage hacker who remains tight-lipped about Lester’s death. When the 9/11 attacks happen days later, Maxine is shocked. March blames the American government for the attack, arguing they had foreknowledge of the attack but refused to do anything so that President Bush could declare war and seize ultimate power as a dictator. Maxine disbelieves, but the evidence seems to support March’s theory. When Maxine arranges to meet Windust again, she learns he has been killed. Maxine is again warned to give up the case. Later, the Russians confirm to Maxine that Ice has been working for the U.S. government but has not cooperated with the terrorists. Maxine learns Traipse was killed for funneling funds to terrorist cells in the Middle East. While Maxine closes this part of her investigation, she never finds out who killed Lester, why Ice was in cahoots with the government to begin with, or who the men in the Stinger training video are. As the novel ends, Maxine attempts to resume her normal life by allowing Otis and Ziggy to walk to school alone for the first time.