The Woman Who Stopped Traffic: a good Silicon Valley thriller

The Woman Who Stopped Traffic by Daniel Pembrey is a Silicon Valley thriller about a wildly successful social networking startup that's on track to becoming a publicly-traded company. If the IPO goes through, the young founder (who owns 40% of and its lead investor (very loosely based on Whole Earth Catalog creator Stewart Brand) will become multi-billionaires.

The IPO plans are jeopardized when, during a presentation to investors and press, a page that has an ad for child sex trafficking is accidentally displayed on the projection screen, causing alarm among the audience.' official response is that a rogue user created the page. Its executives promise to take steps to put a stop to such illegal content.

Of course, this being a thriller, there's a deeper problem at than evil users selling sex slaves on its site. One of the early investors in, based in Aruba, is suspected of being involved, but no one knows who the investor is. The chief scientist of hires Natalie Chevalier, the ex-head of security at a "large Seattle software company," to get to the bottom of it before the IPO goes bust. Murder, mayhem, and MMORPGing ensue.

My favorite part about The Woman Who Stopped Traffic is not the solving of the mystery, but the gamesmanship between the stakeholders in the imminent IPO: the underwriters, the company executives, the angel investors, and the institutional investors. Pembrey does a great job of presenting the interplay between these people, all of whom have their own goals, goals which are not necessarily in alignment. The IPO stuff reminded me of Wired magazine's failed IPOs in the 1990s when I was an editor there. (The IPO fell through once due to "adverse market conditions" and once again when it broke the "quiet period" rule after the publisher sent an email to employees that leaked to The Well and then to the rest of the world). I wondered how Pembrey did such a good job describing the business of media start-ups, then I read his bio: "financial analysis, an MBA, and ten years spent in the business development team of a US West Coast Internet company." Kudos to Pembrey for taking a typically dry subject and turning it into something exciting.

Pembrey self-published The Woman Who Stopped Traffic on Amazon's CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. It's available as a paperback for $12, or $2.99 as Kindle (which is the way I read it). Also, it's just £0.99 in the UK.