Book Review: The Cipher by Isabella Maldonado (2021) | Police Procedural

The Cipher by Isabella Maldonado

TLDR: A breakout novel from a very accomplished Latina federal law enforcement officer. Police procedural fit for fans of Criminal Minds. Big content warnings (see below). Serial killer, FBI search.

The accomplished author is building off a life of federal law enforcement experience to craft a story about Nina, a woman who experienced a horrible kidnapping at the hands of a budding serial killer. Nina dedicated her life to becoming a FBI agent and solving crimes.

This book is about the fight between Nina and her kidnapper who is obsessed with finding and killing her after years — she changes her name and leaves, but he ends up being able to find her after she goes viral while preventing her own rape while running in the park. “The Cipher” (aka the killer) issues a series of puzzles to Nina in order to taunt and test her, ultimately gaining a country wide following. The FBI enlists cyber experts, criminologists and Nina to the task of tracking down his identity… before he kills again.

REVIEW (spoilers)

This book is heavy on the procedures of a FBI investigation. It utilizes the author’s relevant knowledge to craft the story and inform the reader of what I assume would be the realistic steps taken in this situation. It reminds me of an episode of Criminal Minds, there’s even a quirky computer geek like Penelope. If you’re interested in the psychology / criminology of serial killers, this book also uses this as a major plot theme while they try to solve the Cipher’s puzzles. The reader is clued in to the investigation as well as some of the Cipher’s thoughts in chapters, but the main focus is on Nina. I liked that she was a strong woman who overcame unthinkable horror to become an agent.

It is critical to say that this book is not for everyone. Within the first few pages, there is an explicit attempted rape. There is murder, graphic violence, rape, sexual and physical assault, kidnapping, etc. and the depictions are not sugarcoated. Please exercise caution if you think this may not be the right content for you.

PS: This book is being adapted into a film starring Jennifer Lopez. Pretty awesome!