Islamic terrorists threaten a graduate student and her son to get their hands on an artificial intelligence she developed that could locate U.S. Trident submarines in this debut thriller.
When radical Muslims successfully activate a virus that shuts down a U.S. sub’s electrical systems, it’s only the beginning of their machinations. The terrorists, led by Salah al-Zahrawi, now know the virus works but will need a way to find the Trident subs they want to infect. The National Security Agency picks up chatter of an upcoming Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency presentation by Columbia University grad student Kalian Delamagente that links paleoanthropology and submarines. Salah has a keen interest in the event, eying both Kali and her best friend and officemate, Catherine “Cat” Stockbury. Cat’s project is an even more powerful computer virus than Salah’s, while Kali’s AI Otto may have the capability of pinpointing subs. Dr. Zeke Rowe seems the perfect choice to go undercover as a visiting professor to Columbia: the former SEAL actually has a Ph.D. in paleoanthropology. Zeke right away doesn’t trust Dr. Wynton Fairgrove, who’s getting close to Kali, figuring he’s either aligned with the terrorists and aiming to steal Otto or perhaps has a more personal interest in her. But Kali can’t stay in the dark for long. After an increasingly impatient Salah kidnaps her teenage son, Sean, she may betray her country to save her child. The author refines her story with an absorbing protagonist. The genius grad student has an eidetic memory and recurrent headaches and was pregnant at 14, with the added menace of a stalker: Sean’s estranged father, Fletcher. Murray effectively generates suspense; Sean isn’t the only abductee, and Kali may lose her Columbia backing if she doesn’t finish her dissertation in time. Salah, too, is unquestionably a threat (he kills someone within the first 10 pages), and Fairgrove is unnerving in his obscurity—there’s a chance he could be a good guy. Nevertheless, a tighter story might have bumped up tension. Waiting for anyone to make a move, be it the villains or Zeke revealing what he knows to Kali, leads to a bit of a lull before the searing final act.
After their first appearance in a prospective series, the exemplary characters should make a welcome return.