As might be anticipated from the title, 1st CASE introduces a new character to the James Patterson universe in a story set very much in the (non-COVID-19) present and serves as both an entertaining and a cautionary tale.
The book, which Patterson wrote with Chris Tebbetts, is told in Angela Hoot's voice and through her eyes. She is getting her baptism by fire as an intern with the FBI's Boston field office by arriving at the scene of the murder of a family. We learn two things fairly early on about Angela: She is a computer-programming/code-writing prodigy, which got her fast-tracked into the FBI's cyber forensic team, and this talent --- or rather her inappropriate use of it --- got her summarily booted from MIT's graduate program. It was only through the grace of her mentor, Eve Abajian, that she had a soft land into the FBI, working with Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) William Keats, a computer prodigy in his own right and one of the few FBI ASACs under the age of 30.
Angela is assigned to crack the phone of the adolescent daughter in the murdered family, and eventually learns that there is an app on there that links to a new type of social media. She is able to trace it back to the source, but only so far. The victim had been in touch with someone who had been tracking her, showing enough of an interest in her that he gained her trust before obtaining entry into her home, and then killing her and her loved ones. It's an intriguing concept, particularly given the speed in the real world with which people learn of and download new apps to their phones, essentially opening up their lives and surrendering information and data with just a click.
Patterson and Tebbetts weave a tour of what occurs throughout the tapestry of the story, dropping factoids about apps, smartphones and the like. Meanwhile, Angela, who has an obsessive streak to go with her brainpower, draws closer to the developers of the app, two fiends who call themselves the Poet and the Engineer. Keats spends a good deal of time trying to reel in Angela, admonishing her to watch and listen when all she wants is to take a more active role. The fact that there is an undeniable attraction developing between them makes things even more interesting.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, as the diabolical programmers appear to have eyes everywhere as they carry out additional murders --- seemingly at will --- making it clear that Angela is being targeted as well.
1st CASE nicely straddles the line between mainstream thriller and young adult fiction. I may be focusing too much on Angela's relatively young age, but certainly that is one factor that would draw in late high school and college-age readers, not to mention her superior computer skills. Older readers also will find much to love here, especially when it comes to the mystery aspects of the plot, as well as a peek behind the veil of what is going on with those apps that are sometimes confusing but often convenient. Hopefully we will see more of the Boston FBI's cyber forensic team in due course.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub