When I first saw that letter spew I read it as "Read Me." Then I saw "Remade," and even "Reamed." All these interpretation work in this novel by Neal Stephenson. It starts off as a techno thriller but that is somewhat of a red herring as half way through the novel a twist of fate totally changes up the game.
The novel starts in the Midwest at a family reunion. Richard Forthrast, both a legend and a black sheep of the family, is there most to avoid new rumors sprouting up. It's not that he doesn't enjoy his extended family, he's extremely proud of them and fond of many of them like Zula who an adopted refugee who has made good. It's just he's a busy man and he has things to do.
Those things involve his latest business venture which is T'Rain, an online game. The thing that makes T'Rain special is that it was made to create a virtual economy that can be translated to real world money. Most folks who play are happy enough to go around slaying this and that and building castles. But there's a core group, mostly Chinese teens, who are busy mining gold and making stuff and selling it and then converting it to real world currency in a very hard to trace fashion.
Things aren't going hunky dory in the world of T'Rain though. There's an at first subtle revolution going on having to do with color choices and the works of the two fantasy authors who helped create the world of T'Rain. This keeps Richard busy even at his ski lodge that was once on his route as a marijuana smuggler between Canada and the good ol' USA. It keeps him so busy that he doesn't even notice the real problems that are occurring both in T'Rain and the real world.
See, like in "Field of Dreams," if you build it they will come. In this case if you build what amounts to a hard to trace money laundering system someone who needs money laundered will use it. In this case it is a player known at first only as "The Troll." The Troll released the Reamde virus. The virus encrypts all the files on the infected computer and then tells the victim to deposit one thousand gold pieces in an isolated area of T'Rain to get the files back. Since this virus infects millions of machines the money starts rolling in. The Troll thinks he'll just need to sit back and watch folks literally shower him with gold.
Unfortunately things don't go as plan. In the game world, other players notice things like nearly a million people dumping gold in some wasteland. Soon the place looks like a cross between Scrooge McDuck's vault and Bosnia as thieves and thieves for thieves and the Troll's own men trying to foil the thieves fight in the hills. In the real world things get a bit more serious. Zula's boyfriend has been doing some things with a minor arm of the Russian Mafia. Unfortunately, he accidentally infected them with Reamde and all their files are now useless. Now a bunch of Russian Mobsters kidnap Zula and him and basically force them to help find the Troll.
So this is all very hackerish. Neal does a good job of helping readers get through the techness of it all. At the half way point though everything changes. Zula in a fit of compassion misleads the Russians so they don't kill the Troll. Unfortunately, it wasn't an empty room to which she leads them. It is a room full of Al Queada terrorists making bombs. Suffice it say its an explosive situation and soon all the players are scattered to the four winds and into new dilemmas.
The second half of the novel is a smart and savvy set of moves and counter moves as folks try to escape. Some are trying to escape from terrorists. Others from the Chinese government. Eventually it all boils down to a big show down along the Canadian border where Richard's knowledge comes into play.
This was a very enjoyable and exciting novel and I always learn something new when reading a Neal Stephenson book. He's like a jedi/bill nye/asimov type and his font of knowledge is vast indeed. I also have to give it extra points when they traveled through Eastern Washington my old stomping grounds. So I just found this a great read.