The novel opens on the first day of spring, 2001, with Maxine Tarnow walking her two sons to school before going to work.
Maxine, ex-licensed fraud examiner, is approached by Reg Despard regarding suspicious goings-on at hashslingrz, a computer security firm run by Gabriel Ice. She finds much of their financial numbers fail basic plausibility statistics, and notices large payments going to a now defunct website. She talks to an ex-temp for that site, learns they have strong Arab connections, and move large sums of money through hawala, and notices she is being tailed afterwards.
She talks to Rocky Slagiatt, VC investor behind some of Gabriel's start-ups, who is nervous about where they may be going. Rocky introduces her to Igor Dashkov, who asks her about Madoff Securities. A quick scan reveals to Maxine that the numbers are obviously too good to be true.
Mysterious government heavy Nicholas Windust puts pressure on Maxine, asking her to pump her Israeli brother-in-law for information regarding Mossad hacking methods.
March Kelleher is suspicious about the activities of Gabriel, her son-in-law, and asks Maxine to informally interview her daughter Tallis. Tallis does admit to having concerns, but is unwilling to allow any auditing.
Maxine pays a visit to Darklinear Solutions, another mystery vendor found associated with hashslingrz. She sees Tallis exiting, walking a bit away, then someone else exiting, proceed in the extra direction, get in a car and pick up Tallis, so Maxine trails them.
Next morning, Maxine has an unexpected pre-dawn visit from Russian heavy Igor and March. Igor is very thankful, realizing he got out of Madoff Securities in time, and rewards her with illegally unhealthy ice cream. March and Maxine deliver some money to Sid (March's ex-husband), who takes them on his boat for a short drop off, but he is approached by patrol boats and races down the East River, only shaking off his pursuit when he reaches New Jersey near the landfill islands.
Maxine receives a videotape which directs her to a Montauk house that Vip Epperdew is known to visit. Trying to find the exact house, a local informs her the house burned down a few weeks previously, and sneaks her in to the mansion Gabriel Ice is building, where he has her help her steal vintage wines. She finds a mysterious code-locked door which she breaks into, leading to a baffling underground complex. The sudden appearance of a strange, short, human-like creature sends her into a panic and she flees in a hurry.
Maxine, in following the hashslingrz money, finds some of it is being diverted into Lester Traipse's account. She confronts him, and he is terrified, and intends to return the money, and asks Maxine to arrange terms. She agrees, but next day he is found dead, an apparent suicide. With the help of Conkling Speedwell and his superhuman forensic sense of smell, she learns there is a peculiar mystery scent at the scene of Lester's death. This scent is identified as "9:30 Cologne", and is soon connected with Windust. The smell also horrifies a friend of Conkling with a supernatural sense of "foresmell" who has been smelling not-yet-existent great fires in New York for some time now.
Maxine receives a videotape of men apparently rehearsing on the Deseret rooftop the shooting down of a jet plane using a Stinger missile.
Maxine attends a humongous dotcom-style-excess party, sponsored by Gabriel Ice on Saturday night, September 8. Everyone is partying like it's 1999. She finds Felix, but he won't say anything about Lester.
The following Tuesday, the 9/11 attacks occur. Horst had told Maxine the day before he was going to be working all night, and she now fears the worst. But he and his business partner had watched Monday Night Football and fell asleep, and next morning joined the masses seeking refuge in New Jersey, and was unable to get through. March leans towards low-level conspiracy theories (but nothing close to truther ideas).
Maxine takes Horst back. Eric and Driscoll move in with them as temporarily homeless. March finds herself hunted and homeless, but she keeps her blog up with WiFi. Gabriel breaks up with Tallis. Justin and Lucas open source DeepArcher, which becomes a home for numerous 9/11 ghosts. Maxine finds Windust's murdered body, and refuses to get involved. The Russians try a vircator attack on a Gabriel server farm.
The book ends with few resolutions. Otis and Ziggy display a level of maturity and independence that Maxine finds herself not quite ready for, as they walk to school alone.Maxine Tarnow
head of Tail 'Em and Nail 'Em, a detective agency specializing in fraud investigations. Separated, "quasi-ex-wife," of Horst Loeffler, whose financial escapades led to her losing her CFE license. Their children, of whom she has custody, are Ziggy and Otis. She and her sons live on the Upper West Side, and the boys attend the Otto Kugelblitz School.
wife of Justin, a minor dotcom success, she has a degree from Pomona College. Her daughter Fiona attends Kugelblitz.
partner of Justin, his own dotcom money mostly ended up in the red, leading him to a life of hiding. Together they are developing DeepArcher (pun on "departure"), a highly sophisticated virtual animated tour of the Deep Web.
receptionist for Maxine.
therapist for Maxine.
Ernie and Elaine
parents of Maxine.
Avram "Avi" and Brooke Deschler
brother-in-law and sister of Maxine, arriving from Israel
Ziggy's krav maga teacher.
a documentary film maker, hired by hashslingrz, a computer security firm, they are throwing unexpected obstacles in his way, so he approaches Maxine for help.
computer hacker hired for Reg, with an extreme foot fetish.
Maxine's best friend since high school, currently a professor of pop culture.
web graphics designer for hwgaahwgh.com.
still on friendly terms with Maxine, he has recently taken a sublet on the hundred-and-something floor of the World Trade Center.
dotcom billionaire and CEO of hashslingrz, some of whose financial dealings strike Maxine as irregular and even sinister. His wife is Tallis, their child is Kennedy. He wants to buy DeepArcher.
sinister tool of the right-wing who moves in and out of government circles, and bluntly expects American Jews to cooperate with his allegations regarding Israeli spying.
long-time activist and friend of Maxine and, mother of Tallis Ice. She runs a "Weblog", Tabloid of the Damned. She believes Gabriel is behind the real
"Montauk project", hidden in plain sight using laughable urban legends.
ex-husband of March. He delivers packages for questionable people, sometimes using a 1937 Gar Wood.
Phipps "Vip" Epperdew
suspected of exploiting undocumented cash-register machine software for zapper fraud.
teenager programming both sides of zapper fraud.
Rockwell "Rocky" Slagiatt
Venture capitalist, investor in several Gabriel Ice start-ups.
Rocky's WASP wife.
former hwgaahwgh.com employee, he's been siphoning money from Gabriel Ice's suspect transfers until he realizes he's in over his head.
some kind of Russian heavy, he deals in, among other things, highly unhealthy Soviet-style ice cream, illegally rich in butterfat and saturated oils. Misha and Grisha are his two torpedoes.
a "freelance professional Nose", with an enhanced, canine-level sense of smell. He is the inventor of the Naser.
an Upper West Side luxury complex with a rooftop pool.
ssociation. Maxine met Reg on an AMBOPEDIA cruise.
Gabriel Ice's computer security firm. The name suggests hash slinger, but "hash" is an important concept in computer security.
Hey, We've Got Awesome And Hip Web Graphix, Here. A defunct web graphics firm, apparently used by Gabriel for money laundering.
Justin and Lucas' Deep Web guide, a pun on "departure".
Disgruntled Employee Simulation Program for Audit Information and Review
A software system, Inslaw's Prosecutor's Management Information System, allegedly compromised.
a bar popular among computer nerds, named after the Internet joke.
Bleeding Edge received generally positive reviews from critics. Critic Michael Dirda, reviewing Bleeding Edge for The Washington Post wrote, "Full of verbal sass and pizzazz as well as conspiracies within conspiracies, Bleeding Edge is totally gonzo, totally wonderful." David Morris Kipen wrote for Publishers Weekly, "It's a peculiarity of musical notation that major works are, more often than not, set in a minor key, and vice versa. Bleeding Edge is mellow, plummy, minor-key Pynchon, his second such in a row since Against the Day (2006)... but in its world-historical savvy, its supple feel for the joys and stings of love--both married and parental--this new book is anything but minor. On the contrary, Bleeding Edge is a chamber symphony in P major, so generous of invention it sometimes sprawls, yet so sharp it ultimately pierces." Michael Jarvis in his review for the Los Angeles Review of Books compared it to modern day cyberpunk literature and wrote, "... all its exuberant visions of transcending the body through cyberspace — lay a deep anxiety about what it would mean to “value the virtual world more” than the material one, perhaps even to lose the ability to discern or enforce the boundaries between the two. Bleeding Edge manifests, with exquisite poignancy, the full human dimensions of those concerns." Stuart Kelly for The Scotsman called it "unequivocally a masterpiece."
Critic Michiko Kakutani, reviewing Bleeding Edge for The New York Times, called it "Pynchon Lite", and "a scattershot work that is, by turns, entertaining and wearisome, energetic and hokey, delightfully evocative and cheaply sensational; dead-on in its conjuring of zeitgeist-y atmospherics, but often slow-footed and ham-handed in its orchestration of social details."
It was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction.