In McCutchen’s debut novel, a socially awkward genius works around the clock to stop a terrorist who hides his plans for mayhem in coded messages.
Benjamin William Asher, one of the FBI’s most talented analysts, has a unique talent for quickly “spotting patterns and breaking down intel.” His nickname, “Basher,” refers to the name on his badge, which reads “B. Asher,” and to his takedown of a perp during his first day in the field working for the FBI’s Dallas office. Someone has sent a threat with a cryptogram to multiple major newspapers, which captures Basher’s attention. The note, signed by “The Patriot,” is addressed “To the Citizens of the United States of America,” and gives a 24-hour deadline to solve a puzzle, in order to stop an unspecified event from occurring. Basher cracks the code, and the revealed message suggests that the sender is targeting railroad bridges in Chicago; however, the authorities there don’t see the threat as credible. Not long after explosions destroy the bridges, the Patriot sends a second cipher, which Basher shows to be a threat to Atlanta. The analyst and his team rush to identify and stop the perpetrator. McCutchen ably builds tension throughout the narrative, and his characters’ frustration and determination feel real. The author skillfully develops the diverse group working to thwart the Patriot, which includes the intelligent, intuitive, and driven Special Agent Abigail Gains; a tactical expert; a techie with “the skin tone of someone who saw more dark hours than light”; and a psychoanalyst who tries to understand the terrorist’s motives. He also supplies realistic dialogue, as when a team member tells Basher, “Just remember, we are in this together, and when this is all over, when we hopefully understand what it has all been for…you’re buying the first round.” The ciphers add an intriguing element to the book, and puzzle fans may well try to solve them before Basher does.
A solid, twisty debut.