The Cipher (2021)

The Cipher (Nina Guerrera, #1)

Book: The Cipher
 Isabella Maldonado
Publication Info: 2021, Thomas & Mercer, Amazon Publishing
Genres: Thriller/Suspense, Police/FBI Procedural, Mystery
My Rating: 3.5/4 stars

This book is a breakout novel from a very accomplished Latina federal law enforcement officer. I read this a few months ago, and now, there is a second book out that follows the same main character. Also, I think they’re still making the first one into a movie with Jennifer Lopez cast as Nina.

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.


“To a cunning serial killer, she was the one that got away. Until now…

FBI Special Agent Nina Guerrera escaped a serial killer’s trap at sixteen. Years later, when she’s jumped in a Virginia park, a video of the attack goes viral. Legions of new fans are not the only ones impressed with her fighting skills. The man who abducted her eleven years ago is watching. Determined to reclaim his lost prize, he commits a grisly murder designed to pull her into the investigation…but his games are just beginning. And he’s using the internet to invite the public to play along.

His coded riddles may have made him a depraved social media superstar—an enigmatic cyber-ghost dubbed “the Cipher”—but to Nina he’s a monster who preys on the vulnerable. Partnered with the FBI’s preeminent mind hunter, Dr. Jeffrey Wade, who is haunted by his own past, Nina tracks the predator across the country. Clue by clue, victim by victim, Nina races to stop a deadly killer while the world watches.”


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.

One of the things that, for me, sets this book apart from others is the author’s experiences that obviously inform the actions of the characters. The author was a law enforcement official and has years of experience matching that of someone who would be in a position similar to the characters in the book. Additionally, the content of the book doesn’t “shy away” from anything — it’s definitely one of the most intense books I have read this year.

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!



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