"Another stellar installment. Breakfield and Burkey show no signs of slowing down in an ever improving series."– Kirkus Reviews
Various organizations find that using new digital currency is a surprisingly dangerous endeavor in the 10th outing in Breakfield and Burkey’s (The Enigma Dragon, 2017, etc.) techno-thriller series.
When there’s a security breach at the Global Bank, Interpol enlists the help of the R-Group in Switzerland, which specializes in cybersecurity. But the bank also needs assistance in getting control of assorted cryptocurrencies on the market after the appearance of a brand-new digital medium of exchange. Seeking additional help, Global Bank separately contacts Petra Rancowski, descendant of one of the R-Group’s founders. Other groups want to implement the new currency, as well, including a Chinese terrorist group that goes after R-Group associate Su Lin and her husband, Andy Greenwood. Once a part of the Chinese Cyber Warfare College, Lin created a particular type of cryptocurrency code. Combat-trained Mercedes Field of the Cyber Assassins Technology Services team (prominently featured in other series installments) essentially becomes Lin’s bodyguard—and soon, she must deal with an abduction. Meanwhile, Petra; her love interest, Jacob Michaels; and R-Group hacker Quip enter the cryptocurrency war by developing their own digital product while R-Group Financial Director and Jacob’s grandfather Wolfgang Mickelowski struggles with a grave illness. Breakfield and Burkey excel at efficiently recapping earlier events and character histories while also delivering a fresh story. The pace is unremitting throughout, aided by the authors’ use of very short scenes and chapters. Wolfgang’s ailment provides this entry with some tender moments as well as a further peek into the R-Group backstory; Jacob discovers books, written by Wolfgang, that tell of the organization’s possible origin. As in preceding entries, the technological jargon is both modern and comprehensible, and the abundant humor never sidetracks the narrative; one advertisement for Petra’s new currency, for instance, is amusingly flashy: “We broker 1’s and 0’s at digital speed for peace of mind!”
Another top-tier installment that showcases exemplary recurring characters and tech subplots.
In this ninth volume of Breakfield and Burkey’s (The Enigma Broker, 2017, etc.) techno-thriller series, a covert team tracks groups who are moving information and funds using nondigital means.
The latest assignment for Julie and Juan Rodríguez’s Cyber Assassin Technology Services involves more footwork than is typical for them. Julie dispatches team members to various locales from Panama to Singapore to track “AIMs”—“analog information mules” working for a global energy company called ePETRO. The AIMs handle business transactions by word of mouth in order to subvert any digital surveillance. Marge Barger and Mike Patrick of ePETRO have good reason for maintaining secrecy, as they’re currently buying oil illegally from Muslim terrorists and selling it to the North Korean government. Julie goes undercover as a woman named Jackeline Cooper and lands a job at ePETRO’s London office, while other CATS members, including Tyler Hebert and Ernesto Gleen in New York, search for AIMs in order to record the contacts that they make. It’s not as mundane as it sounds, as information mules aren’t easy to trail. But then CATS members, including Julie, inexplicably vanish, and Juan and the remaining members must ensure that everyone gets home safely as they attempt to thwart ePETRO’s nefarious plans. By this point in their long-running series, Breakfield and Burkey have mastered the art of telling a story with myriad characters. They’ve amassed a wealth of recurring heroes, which, in this installment, generates a wide variety of storylines; CATS member Brayson Morris in Panama, for example, is apparently disenchanted and may be ready to leave the team. However, it’s the villains that steal the spotlight this time around. There’s obvious dissention among them, resulting in a string of double-crossings and scenes that brim with tension. Marge and Mike, in particular, aren’t telling each other everything; for example, a solo Marge strives to meet the North Koreans’ demand for uranium on her own. This second CATS-centric installment (after 2016’s The Enigma Gamers) will leave readers yearning for more.
Astute prose and an unwavering pace energized by first-rate characters and subplots.
In this debut techno-thriller, the first in a planned series, a hacker finds his life turned upside down as a mysterious company tries to recruit him.
Jacob Michaels, a hacker working as a tester for a New York information-security company called PT, Inc., is happy to be invited for a meeting at DEFCON, an annual hacker convention in Las Vegas. However, the invite comes in the form of an airline ticket with Jacob’s full name and address—information that he usually keeps concealed. It soon becomes clear that Jacob is under cyberattack, as people start receiving emails he didn’t send, and even the keycard to his room gets rejected. Meanwhile, a strange man named Otto is trying to hire Jacob—while also monitoring Jacob without his knowledge. Breakfield and Burkey’s novel is a thriller for the 21st century. Instead of drug or money mules, it features “information mules” who steal others’ codes and work for organizations such as Dteam, a Russian group that pilfers funds electronically. Jacob gradually learns about Otto’s business and its possible link to Jacob’s mother, who was run down by a car; at the same time, he becomes close with fellow hacker Petra, who may be on Otto’s payroll. Later, the focus shifts toward Dteam, run by a man named Grigory, and a Chinese school for cyberwarfare run by Lt. Col. Ling Po. Grigory and Po are remarkable villains, but the new subplots make Jacob a supporting character in his own story. On the plus side, Buzz, Jacob’s rich-kid friend who paid his way through MIT, faces so many obstacles that most readers won’t notice that the protagonist is sitting on the sidelines. Some exclamations, such as “Oh, poop!” give the story the feel of a YA novel, but the story’s sex scenes are markedly adult, in a romance-novel way: “[H]e pulled her closer and kissed her with such passion she immediately heated up.”
A complex thriller with a hacker-centric plot and polished technological descriptions that may attract new fans.
The fight to perfect battlefield communications may prove lethal in Breakfield and Burkey’s third installment of their techno-thriller series (The Enigma Rising, 2014, etc.).
In this novel, various entities struggle to create new, successful tactical communications systems. A failed field exercise by the Chinese, for instance, results in implanted chips burning soldiers’ skin. However, when Texas A&M professor Su Lin succeeds in inserting monitoring chips into a pig, a number of different organizations take notice, including information-services organization R-Group. Otto, the son of one of R-Group’s founders, sends two employees, Jacob and Petra, to talk to the professor before a “three letter [government] agency” can. However, there are two Muslim terrorists, wanted by Interpol, who are also interested in the technology. The terrorists grab defense contractor Keith Avery and subcontractor Eilla-Zan “EZ” Marshall, who have information about the chips, and R-Group must find them before the terrorists can launch an electronic assault. As in previous books, Breakfield and Burkey infuse the narrative with technological jargon that’s intelligent but accessible. This time around, however, they’ve amped up the suspense, as R-Group has very little time to find Keith and EZ. There’s also considerably more humor in this third outing, including a number of tongue-in-cheek acronyms (such as Su Lin’s “Polymorphic Operational Programing of Technology to Aggregate Recurring Temporal Synergies,” or “POPTARTs”). In one scene, government agent Arletta Krumhunter gets a reluctant ops team to do a job with the promise of Slim Jims and beef jerky, and in others, Su Lin’s pig is shown to have just as much personality as his human counterparts. The authors continue their run of stellar villains with the returning Chairman Lo Chang, but they also add wonderfully unpredictable characters with unclear motivations. The solid ending could either stand alone or serve as a lead-in to a potential sequel.
A solid espionage thriller that adds more tension and lightheartedness to the series.
The fourth entry in Breakfield and Burkey’s (The Enigma Ignite, 2014, etc.) techno-thriller series pits the R-Group against a seemingly untraceable computer virus and what could be a full-scale digital assault.
A series of cyberattacks targets an Irish bank, a Texas winery and a hydroelectric dam in Brazil, among other places. They also attract the R-Group, an organization specializing in information gathering and analysis. The rogue code leaves messages behind, calling itself the Ghost Code, before apparently wiping clear any evidence of its existence. Jacob, his love, Petra, and the rest of the team believe these attacks are indicative of “training exercises” that precede a much larger strike. The R-Group’s involvement becomes personal when Juan’s plane is hacked; there’s a possibility that he’s dead after communication is lost. Juan’s brother Carlos and Juan’s newly pregnant lover, Julie, go undercover to stop Zara, a beautiful cyberassassin, who may play a part in the Ghost Code and who, interestingly enough, could pass for a Petra doppelgänger. The authors’ latest novel—their fastest-paced yet—dives headfirst into the plot and maintains an engaging mystery based on the R-Group’s investigation. The person responsible for the Ghost Code, they discover, is Mephisto, corresponding with hacker Callisto, though the true identities behind the handles aren’t initially clear. There’s a veritable hodgepodge of characters, most of whom are returning, but the authors include context for new readers without weighing the story down with a laborious retread. As in prior novels, characters are colorful and indelible. Zara is particularly engrossing. She was a dominatrix at a young age, which instilled in her an obsessive desire for control. There’s even a sex scene with Zara in which she humiliates her bodyguard, Dante; while it’s evident what’s happening, the scene manages to be as subdued as the rest of the novel, with few vulgar words. The main plot ends with over 50 pages remaining, so while the coda might have been better were it truncated, it once again leaves room for another sequel.
Another stellar installment. Breakfield and Burkey show no signs of slowing down in an ever improving series.
A secret organization is hellbent on using a supercomputer to predict future events in the fifth outing of Breakfield and Burkey’s techno-thriller series (The Enigma Wraith, 2014, etc.).
When a political candidate believes his campaign has been targeted by a cyberassassin, he enlists the help of the R-Group, an information-gathering and security team. This attack, however, seems to be one of many made possible with “heavy computer muscle.” The covert Werewolf Clan, with ties to Nazis, may be responsible and has been using a computer program to accurately predict stock futures. But it has an even more ambitious plan to link supercomputers around the world and potentially manipulate the future. At the same time, R-Group’s Julie, newly married and pregnant, is starting her own Cyber Assassin Technology Services but may have a mole among the recruits feeding info to an old enemy, Chairman Chang. The authors focus on characters in preceding books, but this time, they’ve breathed new life into the series with Julie’s CATS. Her subset, of sorts, allows for the introduction of unfamiliar faces, like employee Brayson, and fresh storylines. Breakfield and Burkey once again deliver the goods, as returning readers will expect—intelligent technology-laden dialogue; a kidnapping or two; and a bit of action, as Jacob and Petra dodge an assassin (not the cyber kind) in Argentina. Comedy, interestingly, comes from R-Group’s own supercomputer, aka Immersive Collaborative Associative Binary Override Deterministic system, who, as it happens, is invested in understanding humanity’s humor. ICABOD finds other supercomputers and, rather imperiously, names them himself; the Russian Binary Operations Recalculating Integers Simultaneously has one of the shorter acronyms. There are a fair number of romantic relationships, most established in earlier books, including Jacob and Petra’s, and ICABOD designer Quip and Eilla-Zan’s. But the romance between Julie and husband Juan is unparalleled. Their storyline warrants a spinoff novel or two.
Should lure readers who haven’t yet discovered the series.
In the latest volume in Breakfield and Burkey’s (The Enigma Stolen, 2015, etc.) techno-thriller series, a disreputable doctor’s life-extension project calls for abductions and human experiments with unwilling participants.
Su Lin nearly died from an accident that caused her to lose her memory. Formerly known as Master Po, she’d been an expert in cybertechnologies. When someone tries to kidnap Su Lin, a digital-security team called the R-Group suspects that the baddies are after Su Lin’s laptop. But the woman can’t remember what’s stored on her computer or how to bypass its complex encryption. She may have a connection to Dr. Xavier Pekoni, whose Fountain of Youth project—complete with unsanctioned human testing—had devastating side effects for its test subjects. A U.S. agency hires the R-Group to find Pekoni, convinced he’s attempting to finalize his research to increase human life spans. The authors excel at breezing through exposition, quickly setting up their newest tale: this time around, returning R-Group lovebirds Jacob and Petra are separated, the latter having isolated herself due to her physical and mental scars. Familiar bad guys abound as well: Jacob’s freelance work inadvertently entangles him with Zara of the villainous Russian Dteam. Zara, meanwhile, is on the run from Chairman Chang, from whom she stole €5 million in diamonds. There’s mystery throughout, as readers don’t immediately learn why Pekoni is trying to snatch Su Lin or if her teenlike behavior (she’s 50-something) can be remedied. By now there are enough recurring characters that many have paired up romantically, but Breakfield and Burkey still manage to churn out fresh interactions between the couples, as with Jacob and Petra, who, during a conference call with the R-Group, privately message one another to discuss their fractured relationship. The authors have likewise mastered scenes that are simultaneously cool and comical: Jacob’s tracking program is “his secret sauce,” and Zara gets help fencing the jewelry from her boss, Dmitry, who, by sheer happenstance, offers to sell the goods to rightful owner Chang.
As always, loaded with smart technological prose and an open ending that suggests more to come.
In this spinoff of Breakfield and Burkey’s (The Enigma Always, 2015, etc.) techno-thriller series, someone’s hacking companies and places with automated services and demanding ransoms.
Julie Rodríguez plays her part in family-run information/security organization R-Group, but her latest job is being handled by her own Cyber Assassin Technology Services. CATS is keeping an eye on a number of hacked computer systems and corresponding demands for money. There may be a pattern, as each incident involves tampering with an automated process. The Consortium of mines in Australia, for example, loses control of its digital mining equipment, while U.S. airline Fast Flyers’ fully automated flight service confronts problems like a website erroneously promising free travel. Julie and her pilot husband, Juan, dispatch CATS members around the globe, including Brayson Morris, who’s in Spain to help Baby Perez, mayor of the ultramodern, digitized Smart City. Meanwhile, the persons behind the cyberattacks are, it seems, little more than gamers—Russian Dmitry Vasnev and Chairman Chang in Macau, China—engaged in a serious competition on their respective supercomputers. The CATS team tries to regain access to the machinery or networks but is encumbered by people’s willingness to abide by the hackers’ ultimatums. Julie and company race to track the source as the ransom deadlines approach. The authors wisely chose cyberassassin Julie as a focus, as she’s one of the series’ best characters. Though it’s a bit disappointing that she doesn’t get more of the spotlight, the story provides excellent coverage of the hacked systems and the team’s varying degrees of success—one business pays the ransom and effectively terminates its contract with CATS. An unmistakable distinction from preceding books is evident, primarily a lighter tone. There’s concentration on Julie and Juan’s intimacy, for example, as well as relative distance between Dmitry and Chang’s game and its real-world consequences. Still, grim events build anticipation; a crew’s work on nonoperational vehicles proves lethal, and even Juan faces trouble, with his plane losing a battle with a hijacked drone. Readers returning to the series will appreciate recognizable faces, while the authors’ comprehensive back story gives newbies a warm welcome.
A cyberattack tale that’s superb as both a continuation of a series and a promising start in an entirely new direction.
In Breakfield and Burkey’s (The Enigma Gamers, 2016, etc.) latest series installment, predatory pricing in the commodity markets may be part of a much bigger and more sinister plan.
Mike Patrick, the CEO of multinational commodities broker ePETRO, notices a conspicuous increase in oil companies’ production numbers. It’s soon apparent that none of the companies are overproducing, so someone must be tampering with the figures. This scheme not only hurts the companies themselves by dropping commodity prices, but it also harms other firms that are developing renewable energy technology, as they could lose investments. Mike calls Jacob Michaels, who did security work for him before joining the R-Group, a family-owned and -run business that combats cyberattackers. An unnamed U.S. government agency also requests R-Group’s help in explaining the plummeting prices of oil and other materials, such as coal. Jacob immediately suspects that the culprit is a “Dark Matter Organization,” manipulating commodity markets for its own purpose. It turns out that a DMO is indeed responsible, and its leadership assigns an enforcer named LJ to make sure that no one identifies them or their “carefully orchestrated plan.” This puts both Jacob and his lover, Petra, in peril when they take their investigation to London. Readers new to the series may be intimidated by the many characters in Breakfield and Burkey’s book, most of whom are returning, such as R-Group veterans Otto, Wolfgang, and Quentin “Quip” Waters. But the authors handle their players as skillfully as casino dealers handle cards, and the various subplots are consistently engaging. The main storyline is energized by its formidable villains: LJ is dangerous, but his boss is unquestionably more so—a bad performance review, for example, can end in death. The authors also sprinkle welcome touches of romance throughout, involving quite a few couples—one of whom plans to get married. The humor is more subtle but equally satisfactory, such as Mike’s private insults regarding his boss, the ePETRO chairman.
Another exciting thriller entry in a series that shows no signs of slowing down.
In Breakfield and Burkey’s (The Enigma Factor, 2013) latest techno-thriller, a group combats evil in the digital world, with multiple assignments merging in Acapulco and the Cayman Islands.
When Thiago Bernardes’ daughter, Lara, goes missing after their argument, the businessman seeks help from Otto, head of the R-Group. JAC, aka Julie, finds a lead in Acapulco, where fellow group members (and lovers) Jacob and Petra are vacationing. The couple meets Simone and Carlos, the latter of whom hires Jacob to investigate a bank in the Cayman Islands and who, along with his brother Juan, may be responsible for the disappearance of Mexican drug lords and their money. In this, the second book in the Enigma series, the authors churn out a more streamlined narrative; while the first novel was essentially an origin story—dealing mostly with the recruitment of Jacob, who’s a minor player this time around—this volume dives right into the story with already established relationships such as Jacob and Petra’s. From there, the narrative efficiently sets up Carlos and Juan’s failed drug business and their decision to try their hand at laundering drug money. The story boasts strong characters: R-Group hacker Quip and JAC (both of whom are more pivotal to the narrative this time around) and Carlos, whose business ventures pit him in the role of villain but whose later choices—he considers giving up everything for Simone—make him much more commendable. Yet the shadier characters have more impact: Jesus, though Carlos and Juan’s uncle, is introduced holding a knife to Carlos’ throat, and sleazy porn filmmaker Spencer spends much of his time luring (or attempting to lure) women into his movies. Despite the porno subplot, the story is surprisingly tame: Simone’s friend Rita has to explain to Petra what a lap dance is. Strangely, R-Group’s missions are resolved well before the end, and the book’s final act focuses on the romantic connection between Carlos and Simone; Thiago’s attempt to placate board members demanding a successor (he’s waiting for Lara’s return); and an act of revenge that backfires against an R-Group member. Nevertheless, the story will hold readers’ attention until its unsettling conclusion, which once again leaves plenty of room for a sequel.
A definite improvement over the first book in the series.