William Hertling’s Kill Chain Series

About the author:

Born: Brooklyn, NY

Education:

B.A., Computer Science, City University of New York-Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY

M.S., Computer Science, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

MBA, Business, Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Richmond, WA

Website: http://www.williamhertling.com/

Thriller Sub-genre: Techno-Thriller

The Simon Review

William Hertling’s previous Singularity series was about the future when technology surpasses human intelligence and the ultimate consequences.  In the Kill Chain series, Hertling focuses on technology that exist in our present world and the destructive forces behind it. In the first of the series, Kill Process, the story centers on the character Angelina ‘Angie’ Benenati, a brilliant computer scientist that has a history of hacking. Angie works for a company known as Toma, which is a fictional company that has some strong similarities to Facebook. Angie worked with Toma during its early rise as a company, but became disillusioned with what Toma had become, a powerful company that uses unscrupulous practices to make money. She decides that a competitor to Toma is necessary to take the air out of it, so she breaks free of Toma to create a company known as Tapestry.

Angie Benenati is one of the most complex characters that I have ever encountered in a techno-thriller and is the main reason that Kill Process is a must read.  Behind the brilliant façade that is Angelina Benenati is a highly troubled individual, whose past of abuse and victimization has led her to commit iniquitous acts of violence using her abilities as a hacker. Angie is a paradox, there are parts of me that wants to like this characters, but on the other hand I’m appalled at many of her actions. Benenati’s acts of vigilantism leave me torn, as part of me can understand why she has chosen what she has done and secretly applaud it, but at the same time I feel her acts are vengeful, irresponsible, and contradictory to what she wants to achieve by creating Tapestry.

Then there is Kill Switch. Hmmm, what to say, what to say. The character Igloo, who had a minor role in Kill Process, takes the lead in Kill Switch. Igloo’s life after she leaves for the day from Tapestry is rather interesting to say the least. Igloo participates in BDSM and a good chunk of the first part of the book gives a rather graphic portrayal of her extracurricular activities. Hertling is taking a risk by introducing this narrative so early in the novel, as I am sure, there will be readers that will immediately tune out, but Igloo’s lifestyle does have relevance for rest of the story which involves the protection of privacy on the internet. I think I would have enjoyed Kill Switch more if Hertling hadn’t gone into such great detail on Igloo’s ‘play time’. Needless to say, once I got through this part of the book, I found it to be quite interesting.

For a technothriller, this series stands out as the characters portrayed are not what you find in a typical technothriller. For some, the subject matter maybe too intense, but you will definitely ponder on the subject matter long after you have read the book. Each book could easily be read as a standalone.


Simon’s pick:

Most Favorite Novel in the Series- Kill Process- for one of the most complicated characters in a techno-thriller

Least Favorite Novel in the Series- Kill Switch- Igloo’s ‘play time’ was a bit too much for me


What about the science? With the fact the Hertling has a master’s degree in computer science and has worked at Hewlett-Packard for a number of years, I am sure he knows what he is talking about in relation to the technological aspect of this series.


The Angie Benenati Technical Word in Review: Blockchain– When I first decided to choose blockchain as the technical word in review, I almost changed my mind because any decent explanation that I read, turned out to be incredibly complicated. In order to understand it you would need a PhD in economics and a solid background in computer science, neither of which I have. But I kept reading and I think I finally understand. So here is my simplified view of a blockchain and I hope I am correct.

The very simple definition is that a blockchain is a very sophisticated database. If you have read the news at all, you have probably seen the terms Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency is ‘virtual money’ which was first created by Satoshi Nakamoto. Nakamoto may or may not be a real person and may actually be a group of people, but the identity of Nakamota is unknown. Nakamoto initiated the first blockchain, which was called bitcoin, and the software was released as an open source code (which means it can be used by anyone). The purpose of bitcoin was to make online transactions between individuals that didn’t require a middle man, meaning a bank.

Before computers, banks recorded any transaction by a client in a ledger which was so important that it was stored in a vault. The problem with a hand written ledger is that it was time consuming and mistakes could easily be made or even worse altered resulting in embezzlement and other infractions. So when computers came on board, banks were more than happy to jump on the bandwagon which made accounting far more efficient with fewer mistakes. Once the internet emerged banks took advantage of that as well, making transactions between other banks, retailers and clients even easier. Monetary transactions today have become more dependent on electronic transactions than the use of good ole fashion money. So it seems that it makes sense that we will eventually do all transactions electronically, but the problem is that it isn’t very secure – yet. Banks store their databases on their own servers which are overseen by their own IT crew. No matter how much security any bank may have, there will always be a hacker that will try to gain access and in some cases they will. The concept of the blockchain may alleviate that problem in that instead of a transaction recorded on a database located on one or possibly two servers owned by the bank, the copy of the transaction is shared among numerous servers or nodes with each having their own copy. Each copy of the transaction is constantly being verified and checked for authenticity and compared with every other copy using a complicated algorithm to confirm that each copy is identical. The information is then stored as a block and is permanent and cannot be changed. When a new transaction is made or a change made to a previous transaction, that information is stored as a separate block which is then linked to previous blocks of transactions which results in the chain.

Image from pixabay.com

Normally the middleman in a monetary transaction would be a bank, but with the blockchain there is no middleman. So the information is more or less owned by the internet and with the information being spread throughout, hacking that information becomes incredibly complex thus making it virtually unhackable.


The next morning, Angie entered Igloo’s office without knocking. Igloo was too deeply engrossed in a tricky bit of blockchain validation. -Kill Switch


The T2 team, which includes Igloo and other programmers at Tapestry, are trying to formulate a blockchain that will result in privacy protection of its users.

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 the total number of ratings in Goodreads, Amazon (US & UK), and Library Thing add up to less than 100 which means statistically they don’t really have any meaning. So read the books and give a rating.

#1-Kill Process – 2016

First Line:

The thing you have to know about me, to understand everything that’s coming, is that I kill people.


Characters

Angelina ‘Angie’ Benenati: A brilliant but troubled computer hacker who starts her own company, Tapestry

Louis Rasmussen: CEO of Tomo

Thomas: Angie’s lover

Igloo: Computer scientist trained at MIT, one of the co-creators of Tapestry


The Setting

Portland, Oregon


By day, Angie, a twenty-year veteran of the tech industry, is a data analyst at Tomo, the world’s largest social networking company; by night, she exploits her database access to profile domestic abusers and kill the worst of them. She can’t change her own traumatic past, but she can save other women.

When Tomo introduces a deceptive new product that preys on users’ fears to drive up its own revenue, Angie sees Tomo for what it really is—another evil abuser. Using her coding and hacking expertise, she decides to destroy Tomo by building a new social network that is completely distributed, compartmentalized, and unstoppable. If she succeeds, it will be the end of all centralized power in the Internet.

But how can an anti-social, one-armed programmer with too many dark secrets succeed when the world’s largest tech company is out to crush her and a no-name government black ops agency sets a psychopath to look into her growing digital footprint?


No sane person wants to go around killing other people, but I explored all the other options. Try to get the woman out, and you might indirectly kill her. Use punitive measures against the abuser, such as ruining their finances or getting them fired, and they’ll take out their anger and frustration on their victim. Expose their abuses in the hopes of getting them arrested, and they might go free, in which case the repercussions fall on the partner. If I knew of anything else that guaranteed results, I’d use it, but I don’t. The outcome of my kill process is deterministic.


Looking for a review of Kill Process?  Check out:

Greg Borodaty


Amazon Rating-US: 4.58 out of 5 stars based on 192 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 4.21 out of 5 stars based on 13 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 4.13 out of 5 stars based on 1,267 ratings

Library Rating: 4.20 out of 5 stars based on 5 ratings

Total Score 4.19

#2-Kill Switch- 2018

First Line:

Igloo stopped short when she heard the bagpipes.


Characters

Angelina ‘Angie’ Benenati, Thomas, and Igloo


The Setting

Portland, Oregon


Igloo and Angie are the co-founders of a new social network, Tapestry, based on the principles of privacy and data ownership. Two years later, with Tapestry poised to become the world’s largest social network, their rapid growth puts them under government scrutiny.

Tapestry’s privacy and security is so effective that it impedes the government’s ability to monitor routine communications. Fearing Tapestry will spread to encompass the whole of the Internet, threatening America’s surveillance abilities around the globe, the government swoops in to stop Angie and company — by any means possible.

Under the constant threat of exposure — of Angie’s criminal past, of Igloo’s secret life in the underground kink scene, and of their actions to subvert a FISA court order — they must hatch a plan to ensure the success of Tapestry no matter what pressures the government brings to bear.

Not knowing whom to trust, or if they can even trust each other, Igloo and Angie must risk everything in the ultimate battle for control of the Internet.


This was just Angie’s dead man’s switch, her kill switch, sending out a last message after Angie was gone.


Amazon Rating-US: 3.59 out of 5 stars based on 22 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: not rated

GoodReads Rating: 4.16 out of 5 stars based on 70 ratings

Library Rating: not rated

Total Score 4.02

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