Born: December 5, 1969, Lincoln, Nebraska
B.A.- Physics- Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio
Ph.D.-Biochemistry- Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, New York, NY
Thriller Sub-genre: Techno-thriller
Publisher: Prometheus publishing & self-published through Twice Pi Press
Future of the Series: The latest in the series entitled The Nash Criterion was released on 7/4/16.
The Simon Review
Erec Stebbins, who is a resident of New York City, witnessed the events of 9/11 and angered by the events that unfolded, decided to retaliate with the most effective weapon that he knew how to use which would be the pen, and with that the first book in his series, The Ragnarök Conspiracy, was born. Stebbins’ series is based off of a fictional counterterrorism unit known as INTEL 1 which was established to thwart any act of terrorism that occurs on US interests.
The term Ragnarök comes from the name of a Norse mythological battle that results in the death of some corrupt gods and destruction of the world as we know it, with a whole new world order arising from the flames. In The Ragnarök Conspiracy, a terrorist takes this myth seriously and decides that Armageddon should take place by pitting the Muslim world against everybody else by instigating acts of terror on predominantly Muslim occupied facilities. His acts of terrorism brings in the expertise of INTEL 1, a unique group of experts with various backgrounds such as computer specialist, financial analyst, lawyer, FBI and CIA. Much of the story centers around John Savas, a former NYPD cop, that lost his son, also a cop, in the 9/11 attacks. Tremendously angered at the terrorist that killed his son, he must now stop a terrorist group that is targeting a group of people that Savas has developed a strong dislike towards and that would be Muslims. To top it off, Savas must also work with an undercover CIA agent, Husaam Jordan, who also happens to be Muslim. However, it doesn’t take too long before Savas develops a strong respect for Jordan, and comes to the conclusion that not all Muslims are extreme homicidal maniacs out to destroy Western culture. It is Jordan that steals the show in this novel making all the other operatives look like a bunch of weenies. What is unique about this novel is that a lot of the good guys are killed, in fact half of INTEL 1 is taken out. As the series progresses, Stebbins doesn’t shy away from killing off some of the good guys which is actually rather refreshing because in most of the thrillers that I read, the heroes always win which makes the plot rather predictable. Of course, this could be a very challenging plot line for Stebbins to follow as readers tend to get emotionally attached to certain characters and killing them off could result in angry readers. Personally, even though I may be saddened by a loss of a character that I like, I feel that characters should be dispensable in a good thriller, which makes it seem more realistic and gives it more of an edge.
The second novel in the series, Extraordinary Retribution, sets the stage for the development of two characters that will have a significant role as the series continues. The story begins with a Catholic priest, Father Francisco Lopez, discovering that his brother Miguel had been murdered. When the authorities brush off the investigation into Miguel’s murder, Lopez is determined to find his brother’s murderer himself and bring him or her to justice. He is approached by a CIA agent, Sara Houston, who had worked with Miguel at the CIA and knew that his death occurred under extraordinary circumstances and she wanted to know what was behind it. As a priest, Lopez enters into this relationship with Houston to find his brother’s murderer with a certain clueless naivety that only a man of the cloth could pull off. What really makes this novel good is observing Lopez’s transition from a peaceful priest into a hardened warrior and Stebbins does this with a bit of black humor to boot. Maybe it is the fact that I was raised Catholic and had to sit for countless hours at Mass singing Kumbaya or perhaps my envisioning a priest toting around an AK-47, but I found that I really enjoyed the priest turning rogue theme.
(Image courtesy of Jim at Gravyboats, Thank you Jim!)
The Anonymous Signal, which has recently been released, is part one of a two part series, and combines characters from the The Ragnarök Conspiracy with characters from Extraordinary Retribution to create a really kick butt team that must stop a computer terrorist group that has released a really destructive computer worm that is destroying modern civilization. This is a thriller that is exciting from the get go and could establish Stebbins as a rising star in the world of techno-thrillers. I can’t wait until the next installment of the series, The Nash Criterion, is released, which should be sometime next year.
Even though Stebbins introduced The Ragnarök Conspiracy and Extraordinary Retribution as standalone novels, I really feel that they should be read before reading The Anonymous Signal mainly to become familiar with the characters. The Anonymous Signal is very plot driven with a lot of action, and since the characters had already been developed in the previous two novels; additional character development takes on a secondary role. This may make the characters seem shallow in The Anonymous Signal if you don’t understand what is really behind them. This is especially true for Sara Houston and Francisco Lopez, which are characters that you really get to know in Extraordinary Retribution.
If you would like to see some holy warriors in action alongside some wicked action sequences with plenty of firearms, the INTEL 1 series will be a great addition to your techno-thriller collection. However, for those of you that are big fans of Dick Cheney, you might want to avoid this series.
Most Favorite Novel in the Series-Extraordinary Retribution-because the conversion of Father Lopez from priest to warrior was unforgettable.
Least Favorite Novel in the Series-The Ragnarök Conspiracy-because of the death of one of the characters that I liked.
What about the science? There is not much in the way of science in the series until you get to The Anonymous Signal which does have have some techno terms on computer usage. As for any science that is presented in the novels, I think you can feel comforted that the science is sound as Erec Stebbins is a biochemist with a strong background in physics and is head of the Laboratory of Structural Microbiology at Rockefeller University, so I think that his credentials speak for themselves.
The INTEL 1 Technical Word in Review: Melanin- is a generalized term for a large group of naturally produced pigments found in living organisms. In humans, melanin is what gives color to our eyes, hair and skin. The most common melanin in humans is called eumelanin with pheomelanin and neuromelanin found in smaller amounts. The main purpose in the production of melanin in the skin is to protect the DNA in our skin cells from the damaging effects of UV rays as a result of exposure to sunlight. Melanin is produced in cells known as melanocytes with the melanin being produced and packaged in cell organelles known as melanosomes. The melanocytes will eventually transfer the melanosomes to skin cells known as keratinocytes which then block UV rays from reaching the nucleus of the cell.
The production of melanin starts with the amino acid tyrosine. The first step in a complex series of chemical reactions to produce melanin is catalyzed by an enzyme known as tyrosinase which converts tyrosine to a molecule known as L-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine or more simply known as L-DOPA. L-DOPA is then converted to dopaquinone and from there on the type of reaction is dependent on the type of melanin being formed. It is the first step, however, that is the most significant when it comes to melanin production disorders such as albinism with genetic mutations in the gene that codes for tyrosinase (Brenner, M., et. al.).
Melanin is so important in protecting our skin from developing cancer that it is believed that over 120 genes are involved in this complex process. If more of the human race could see how beautifully complex and orchestrated the process that makes up the color of our skin, perhaps we wouldn’t be so judgmental about the color of one’s skin.
(Image courtesy of Hepingting)
The wraith held up several vials. “The first step is the inhibition of my own natural melanin production, a cocktail of several compounds. They are inhibitors of the enzyme tyrosinase.
“You have become a biochemist, as well.” He shook his head.
“I have to be many things. See, here: polyphenols, benzoate derivatives, kojic acid, and others. They poison a key chemical step in the production of melanin, the pigmenting compound in human skin.” For emphasis, he pointed out the contrast in the discolored regions of his arm. “They produce a gradual lightening of the pigment and maintain lightness. But it is not enough for my skin.”
“You try to cross a wide chasm.”
The wraith held up several creams and other vials. “I need depigmenting agents, bleaching agents to remove what is naturally there.”
The soldier took one in his broad hand and turned it around, staring at the scrawl on the label. “Hg. This is mercury no?”
“Poison! This is collecting in your tissues, you fool. Someday it will kill you.” –Extraordinary Retribution
Kojic acid and other compounds are known inhibitors in the reaction of tyrosine to L-DOPA which means melanin doesn’t get produced. Mercury containing compounds have been used as skin bleachers for many years. Mercury most likely inhibits the enzyme tyrosinase by replacing the copper associated with the enzyme which is required for its activity. Mercury in place of copper changes the basic structure of tyrosinase which results in its deactivation.
Books in the Series by Order:
For the time being I am not going to list the most and least popular book of the series because for some of the books the total number of ratings in Goodreads, Amazon, Library Thing, and Barnes and Noble add up to less than 100 which means statistically they don’t really have any meaning. So read the books and give a rating.
Near the back of a seedy bar in the Bronx, in one of the deeper recesses and darkest corners, FBI agent John Savas hunched over a shot glass, a caramel-colored liquid halfway to the rim.
John Savas: Ex-NYPD cop now an Intel 1 operative
Larry Kanter: Chief of Intel 1
Manuel Hernadez: Intel 1 computer expert
JP Rideout: Former Wall Street business analyst and Intel 1 analyst
Matt King: Former energy lawyer for big oil firm and Intel 1 analyst
Rebecca Cohen: Former FBI counterterrorism operative and Intel 1 operative
Angel Lightfoote: Unusual member of Intel 1
Frank Miller: Ex-marine and Intel 1 operative
Husaam Jordan: CIA undercover agent who is also a Muslim
New York City and Mexico
A Western terrorist organization targets Muslims around the world, and FBI agent John Savas must put aside the loss of his son and work with a man who symbolizes all he has come to hate. Both are drawn into a race against time to stop the plot of an American bin Laden and prevent a global catastrophe.
Looking for a review of The Ragnarök Conspiracy? Check out:
Amazon Rating-US: 4.04 out of 5 stars based on 24 ratings
Amazon Rating-UK: 4.50 out of 5 stars based on 2 ratings
GoodReads Rating: 3.81 out of 5 stars based on 52 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: 3.71 out of 5 stars based on 7 ratings
Library Rating: 4.00 out of 5 stars based on 3 ratings
Total Score 3.89 (updated 4/3/16)
Listed #497 out of 549 on Goodreads Best Technothriller Ever Book List
Listed #151 out of 164 on Goodreads Best Science Thrillers Book List
By the time he reached the razor-wire, the Syrian landscape had shrugged off the delusion of the irrigated greenery around Damascus.
John Savas and Rebecca Cohen
Father Francisco ‘Gabriel’ Morales Lopez: Catholic priest that looks into his brother’s death which changes his life forever
Sara Katherine Houston: CIA operative that helps Lopez find his brother’s killers
Fred Simon: A former CIA division chief
Miguel Lopez: Agent with the CIA and brother to Francisco
Alabama and New York State
A rogue CIA agent partners with the brother of a slain colleague to uncover a conspiracy deep in the intelligence community. But a shadow follows them: a killer bent on a revenge so terrible, it is only matched by the crimes committed against him. In the end, no one escapes unscathed, no beliefs will go unchallenged, and no wrong will escape the terrible, final, and extraordinary retribution.
Looking for a review of Extraordinary Retribution? Check out:
Amazon Rating: 4.15 out of 5 stars based on 301 ratings
Amazon Rating-UK: 4.30 out of 5 stars based on 63 ratings
GoodReads Rating: 3.87 out of 5 stars based on 525 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: 4.50 out of 5 stars based on 2 ratings
Library Thing Rating: 4.20 out of 5 stars based on 10 ratings
Total Score 4.00 (updated 4/20/17)
The baby pulled on a string and the toy’s small disk chimed.
John Savas, Rebecca Cohen, Francisco ‘Gabriel’ Morales Lopez, Sara Katherine Houston, Fred Simon, Angel Lightfoote, JP Rideout, and Frank Miller
New York City and Washington D.C.
The international financial system is in chaos. World leaders have been compromised. An unstoppable computer virus eats through the Internet. Join an elite team of FBI and CIA agents, and the shadowy figures they must work with, as they try to stop a global catastrophe and act of digital terrorism unlike anything ever witnessed. They are Anonymous. They do not forgive. They do not forget. Expect their signal.
CBD: Sterilize. How can the computers be sterilized if they are infected with her code?
SAVAS: Okay, sterile as far as the Anonymous signal was concerned.
CBD: The Anonymous signal?
SAVAS: Yeah, what we are calling it, the activation Fawkes was going to send to take down civilization.
Looking for a review of Anonymous Signal? Check out:
Amazon Rating: 4.38 out of 5 stars based on 13 ratings
Amazon Rating-UK: 4.00 out of 5 stars based on 1 ratings
GoodReads Rating: 3.97 out of 5 stars based on 38 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: 4.50 out of 5 stars based on 2 ratings
Library Thing Rating: 4.50 out of 5 stars based on 2 ratings
Total Score 4.11 (updated 2/1/17)
“Will there be anything else, Elaine?”
John Savas, Rebecca Cohen, Francisco ‘Gabriel’ Morales Lopez, Sara Katherine Houston, and Angel Lightfoote
New York City and Washington D.C.
WE BELIEVED OUR GOVERNMENT WAS OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE, AND FOR THE PEOPLE. WE WERE WRONG.
A terrorist’s last words lead a team of special agents to the discovery of an unimaginable global conspiracy. But time is running out. The numbers are converging. Can a group of fugitive FBI and CIA operatives prevent the coming catastrophe before the world crosses The Nash Criterion?
The stunning conclusion of an Armageddon duology and sequel to The Anonymous Signal. Book four in the Intel 1 Novels.
A hand reached down and pulled his head back by the hair.
“What is the Nash Criterion? What does it mean?”
“Don’t. Know.” He gasped. “Fawkes. Last email. Death Trigger. No time.”
Looking for a review of The Nash Criterion? Check out:
Amazon Rating: 4.00 out of 5 stars based on 1 ratings
Amazon Rating-UK: not rated
GoodReads Rating: 4.23 out of 5 stars based on 13 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: not rated
Library Thing Rating: not rated
Total Score 4.21 (updated 2/1/17)