The Patriot Cipher, a novel by Sean McCutchen

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Sean McCutchen’s debut novel is beautifully crafted. His gripping narrative keeps the reader guessing at each new clue and explores thought-provoking social questions. His characters are easy to engage with, and highly relatable. Emotional bonds start forming before the first chapter even begins. Though in some ways the story is typical of FBI thrillers, McCutchen keeps the genre fresh and intriguing with subtle foreshadowing and hair-pin storyline twists.

Ben Asher, leading FBI cryptanalyst, is brilliant, arrogant and socially awkward, yet deeply caring about other people. Unfortunately for Ben, the frequency and magnitude of a new series of terrorist threats signed, “The Patriot,” forces him into a true team effort, testing his people skills, battering his well-earned, but inflated ego, and questioning his hard-line morality.

A story centered around ciphers and decryption requires close attention to detail; McCutchen has certainly paid attention to that. With each new clue, the reader is kept at a delicious point where the excitements and frustrations of the main character are visceral. The answers needed to stave off the next disaster are on the page before you, if only you could see them. (The author even provides readers a chance to solve the ciphers themselves in the form of an appendix containing the required resources. Though I like this touch, I was too engrossed to attempt any of the ciphers myself.) The obscure simplicity of each solution and the relentless frequency of attacks add to mounting suspense and a page-turning novel.

Deep emotional connections with the characters begin to form immediately in a gut-wrenching prologue. McCutchen uses first-person and highly visual, raw emotional language to develop a strong sympathy for his main villain right off the bat, switching to third person and a smoother writing style for the bulk of the story. The author develops enough history for each character to add meaning to their interactions and the conflicts they encounter, without significantly detouring from the main story line. As impact from the attacks becomes clear, most of the investigators start to feel their interpretation of right and wrong becoming cloudy. As they find it increasingly difficult not to respect “the Patriot,” the reader has a chance to ponder all the things that might be taken for granted.

I’m hard-pressed to find anything I didn’t like about “The Patriot Cipher.” Despite the author’s characters being (mostly) the simple stock types one comes to expect in this style of thriller he has made them rich and vibrant, perfectly suited for the tale they tell. The plot has enough complexity to stay intriguing, without getting lost on unnecessary tangents. If you enjoy being kept on the edge of your seat by an easy-to-follow story with a shocking outcome, I highly recommend “The Patriot Cipher.”

Amanda King – July 4, 2019

Originally published on Reedsy Discovery
E-book provided by Reedsy Discovery for review purposes.