In Adams’ debut techno-thriller, a cunning mathematical genius in Baltimore has to prove he’s not a mole working for North Korea by exposing the real one.
When the North Koreans take out a CIA safe house based on information they intercepted from the Presidential Secure Cell Phone, the National Security Agency immediately suspects that its employee John Nichols is somehow responsible for the breach. Nichols is the creator of the METAPHOR algorithm, a reputedly unhackable encryption designed to protect the PRESCEPH program. Actually, Nichols is a mole for the Russians, who now believe he’s passing secrets to North Korea; the Russians give him two weeks to track down the one who’s truly behind it. Nichols starts his search at Fourier, the San Diego company that developed the hardware chip for the PRESCEPH. There, he reconnects (in more ways than one) with former NSA co-worker Erica May. As a new hire, he covertly investigates Fourier and can only hope that the mole hunt doesn’t lead him to Erica. The author knows how to heighten anticipation: After Nichols’ Russian handler gives him his ultimatum, the novel skips ahead past the two-week deadline, where readers learn that Nichols has been detained and his daughter, Laura, was abducted. The plot then alternates between Nichols telling his story to Travis Jackson of the U.S. Justice Department and the days leading up to his arrest. The protagonist is delectably perplexing because it’s initially unclear (even to readers, who know more than Jackson) that Nichols genuinely isn’t under North Korea’s thumb. At the same time, Nichols is humanized by the adoration he has for Laura and flashbacks to a young Ilia (soon to be John) in Russia unwittingly enlisted by government agents. Adams enriches the story with numerous characters, including FBI agent Joe Connor, who’s monitoring Jackson’s interrogation, and the enigmatic Hank, who shadows Nichols for an unknown party and occasionally threatens the man he’s watching. There are also a few dead bodies before it’s all over as well as apt displays of Nichols’ hand-to-hand skills. Despite the technology-laden plot, Adams keeps the story relatively simple, never unnecessarily explaining how the METAPHOR algorithm operates or spending too much time establishing Nichols’ exceptional intelligence.
A story and protagonist shrouded in mystery run through with suspense and espionage.