First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and E. J. Simon for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.
In a series that has grown exponentially in its depth and degree of action, E.J. Simon brings what is surely his best work to date with this novel. Working angles of artificial intelligence and nuclear warfare, Simon injects a thriller that will have readers flipping pages simply to determine how things will resolve themselves. A series to note for those who need something lighter, but still seek reading entertainment throughout!
Michael Nicholas took on more than he expected when obtaining the laptop belonging to his deceased brother, Alex. Not only wanting to be a fond memory for his younger brother, Alex also sought to communicate with Michael in the age of technology. The laptop, full of programs that create an artificial intelligence version of the elder Nicholas, permit Alex to communicate in real time using many complex algorithms. With a constant connection to the internet and ability to pull things from the cloud, Alex grows smarter and provides Michael with key information on essential topics, wherever possible.
The brothers know who had Alex killed and even the depths to which the Vatican tried to cover it up. There remains a group who seek to utilise this technology for themselves, creating a neo-Nazi group that will be able to topple any government and run effectively by using the technology Alex held dear to withstand anything put in their way. Its leader is the conniving Claus Dietrich, with Monsignor Kurt Schlegelberger, a former member of the Vatican, as its loyal foot soldier. Schlegelberger may have met an untimely death at the hands of Michael Nicholas, but the acquisition of the artificial intelligence that Alex uses has made the monsignor even more powerful, ready to act and leave the world trembling as it watches.
When a previously missing aircraft emerges in the skies over Washington, it’s a mad scramble to determine where it had been and what the plan is now. A skittish pilot, given a mission to crash land, is having second thoughts, which is not entirely what Kurt Schlegelberger wants to hear. Able to commandeer control of the aircraft, the White House its target, Schlegelberger does all in his power through computer controls to create damage of incalculable proportions. Only the last-ditch efforts of the US Government can bring it down, where certain truths seem to surface soon thereafter.
The plane was full of passengers, including Russia’s leading opposition member who has a long history of speaking out against the current regime. All eyes turn to Moscow and a leader ready to wrest world control away from the Americans. And yet, Michael Nicholas may hold all the answers, bundled into the laptop he possesses. When Nicholas is summoned to the White House, he presents what he has to the president, though Alex is not entirely on board with the display. This is, after all, still his secret from the world.
A reluctant Alex does make an appearance and surmises that this may not have been the Russian attack it appears to be on the surface. Still trying to piece it all together, Alex and Michael wonder if Monsignor Schlegelberger could be behind this, as there was a time he knew of the technological capabilities that Alex possessed. Extrapolating from there, with the ability to control things through the cloud, might Schlegelberger be able to play a game of chess between the American and Russian governments, thereby allowing his neo-Nazi regime to waltz into a power vacuum?
While all this is coming together, Michael remains firm in not revealing Alex’s secret to the world, even those closest to the brothers. However, Alex’s widow is becoming quite suspicious and no longer accepts all that she’s been fed. The coffin with Alex’s body has been unearthed and an unknown body sits therein. A secretive priest offers up a box of ashes, citing Alex’s desire to be cremated, though this does not sound like Alex at all. Is Alex Nicholas dead, or in hiding and perpetrating some fantastic ruse elsewhere?
When Schlegelberger is able to pull off an amazing hack on American soil, he’s ready to enact the final part of his plan, one that will see the two great powers on the verge of complete annihilation. Top officials have only one solution to stop Schlegelberger once and for all. With nuclear warheads in the equation, nothing is off limits, even if it means sacrificing Alex Nicholas’ artificial intelligence in the process.
The journey on which E. J. Simon has taken me in this series proves to be highly entertaining and thought provoking at the same time. Some might call it lighter fare, though this does not diminish the impact of the novels and actually leaves me to ask some things of myself. Questions surrounding technological phenomena, such as artificial intelligence and its usefulness moving into the 21st century, balance nicely within this thriller genre that has become more complex as the novels progress. Simon posts many questions within the narrative while also showing just how seamless the transition can be, as he peppers some morality in there for the reader to consider as well.
Michael Nicholas remains a strong protagonist, having morphed into a man on a mission, rather than the international financier of the early novels. His role to discover the truth behind his brother’s action finds him answering questions he has not pondered, while also being pushed to provide solutions to the Leader of the Free World in his spare time. Michael struggles with it all, pulled well outside his comfort zone, though he seeks to be as helpful as possible to those who seek his assistance. He’s grown throughout the series, both as a character and with the reader, especially as he plunges deeper into the plot.
Yet again, Simon uses a cast of secondary characters to keep the story moving through its full-fledged dedication to the thriller genre. Kurt Schlegelberger remains the dastardly villain, paired with an equally problematic Claus Dietrich, both of whom offer a needed counterbalance to all the Nicholas Brothers are doing throughout the story. The Schlegelberger-Alex clash at the artificial intelligence level is supported, in a way, through Michael and Dietrich, providing an interesting flavouring of how things come together towards the latter portion of the book. There are also a number of recurring characters, all of whom offer the reader some advancement in subplots that round out a highly entertaining read.
As the series morphs from a technological ‘what if’ into a true ‘edge of your seat’ collection, E.J. Simon leaves the reader with much to ponder throughout. There are moral and social issues that emerge, as well as a strong thriller theme throughout. While reading the summary alone may give the impression of something a tad ‘light’ or ‘hokey’, Simon pens a piece that is anything but. His attention to detail and short chapters keep the reader wanting more. The writing is fluid in the series, making one book easily move into the next. These are not standalones, though Simon does offer some flashback summaries in the early part of the book. My bingeing of them helped me see just how strong things can get and the reader is surely in for a wild ride. With a teaser for a fifth (!) book, I am eager to see how things will progress, in new and exciting theatres. This is surely a series curious readers ought to try, if only to give themselves something a little different from their usual fare.
Kudos, Mr. Simon, for another great novel. I am truly intrigued as to where you intend on taking the plot and what other topics are left to broach!
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons