“The Enigma Factor”, recently released in audiobook format is book one in a series of eight books today available in Kindle format. However, be aware this book is the only one presently available (at the time of this review) on Audible. I’m sure the authors (Charles V Breakfield and Roxanne E BurkeyLet) plan to release the others over time. The book is well narrated by Steven Jay Cohen who I enjoyed in another of his narrations; The Somniscient.
Let me say up front that I have been directly involved in both the technology and information security industries for over thirty years. I have read and enjoyed many fiction and non-fiction books on the subjects including a number of techno-thrillers. I feel my background gives me the capacity to examine this book more critically. I personally felt the story could have been written with less technology references and still be exciting. It would have turned the story into a more decent spy-vs-spy book which is really the under lying premise when the technology is stripped away. I felt the authors took nearly every technology buzzword at the time the book was written and attempted to find a way of including them. Do not get me wrong, I like and enjoy technology as much as most, but just using it to sound technical in what really is a suspense thriller did not work for me as much as I had hoped. If you can get over all the techno lingo thrown in, the foundation and bones of the story are well implemented and well executed. If you are searching for a thriller book where the use of technology is a major part of the story, at times overloaded, I think you may want to have a look at The Enigma Factor. Remember, the book is one in a series, so it ends with some unanswered or unresolved plots. If that is a concern, I would wait until more in the series are released in audiobook format or you could read the others today in Kindle format.
This is a very difficult review because of my involvement in the technology and security industry. I will say that I laughed out loud a few times based on the technology being used which I myself leveraged so many years earlier. For example, the book talks about communication circuit testing using a T-Brid device; boy does that bring back memories. I also liked the inclusion of the well-known Dolly Madison cream cakes called Zingers; the raspberry and coconut were my favorite. When I say there were a number of different technologies or attacks involved, let me just list a few I can remember: digital currencies, every kind of encryption, steganography, RAID, Data Transfers, malware, trojans, salami slicing, identity theft, etc. These are just a few and when you add in the standard technical thriller tropes of white and black hats, Russians, Chinese, and a number of bumbling law enforcement, it seems to be more average then something new and exciting. Again, the story telling and overall book is decent, but it seemed to get lost in it wanting to be a techno thriller than simply a thriller with technology elements or undertones. There are also a few areas where the book touches on more philosophical security questions such as which side is better to be on, offensive or defensive security.
Let me say that I thought the authors did a good job of setting up the world, characters and events. There were times of intense emotions, relationships that were not what the seemed, a good amount of crime and intrigue, along with hunting and chasing. The book showed just how intertwined the characters were with each other. I would have liked to have had less technology in exchange for even deeper and more complex characters, but that is more a personal desire. Additional backstories, childhood events, and activities would have also strengthened the characters. We get some of this because of the story plot, however none are used just to give shape the many characters themselves.
Let me say again that I thought Steven Jay Cohen did an exceptional job narrating this book. Not only did he have to deal with both male and female characters, he also had to voice characters having very different accents (American, Russian, and Chinese). On top of all that, he had to have a decent knowledge of the technology he was reading about. He seamlessly pronounced the terms as one in the industry would have. I know this often can be hard for a narrator who may try to pronounce a work when it is simply spoken as the letters themselves and not pronounced; “URL” for example. Overall, audio volume was consistent with only a few areas I notices slight changes. The recording itself was clean and crisp lacking any noticeable audio artifacts while I listened.
I feel it is important to let people know that this book is not intended for younger readers. Not only does it contain some use of vulgar language, it contains a few scenes that would easily get the movie rated of either a heavy R or more likely an NC-17 (Adults Only). There are at least two scenes containing quite graphically described sexual activity in detail that even made me feel uncomfortable and the content is completely unexpected for the book in this genre. There are also discussions and details relating to bondage and adult toy usage in a few spots. Maybe these are included more for their shock factor by the authors. The scenes really seemed to be out of place. Note, these events are in the second half of the book, so if you have already invested your time in the first half, these scenes can be completely skipped as they do not impact the storyline.
In summary, “The Enigma Factor” the first book in a series of suspense thrillers takes you around the world and into the world of both hacking and information security. If you are looking for a new series to begin, you may want to take a look at this book and the others available in Kindle format. If you are not easily offended by graphic adult content and do not mind the technology overload, the thriller and suspense aspects of the book are decent.
Disclaimer: I was voluntarily provided this review copy audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher and/or narrator.