A Knock on the Door by Roberta K. Fernandez, touches deftly on themes surrounding technology, power, and greed and the dangers they present when no limits are imposed. Read my full review.
A Knock on the Door Synopsis
Lori Crawford’s world is turned upside down when her husband dies in a car accident. After twenty-five years of marriage, she thought she would forever live an uncomplicated, happy life with Jack. But just as Lori feels she’s coming out on the other side of her grief, Jack’s assistant at SpringWare, Rita Johnson, discovers information that convinces her that Jack was murdered.
The two women vow to bring the perpetrator to justice. But time is running out, and their names are on someone’s kill list. The truth takes them down a path they never could have suspected. They set out to bring down one of the most powerful men in the country: the director of the National Security Agency. But who will believe them? And how many more will die before they do? Now, they have to decide if they have the courage—and the ability—to finish what they started.
(Subplot Publishing, October 2022)
Roberta K. Fernandez | Pub Date 10.06.2022 | ISBN 9781637554739 | 392 pages
A Knock on the Door opens with a brief prologue where Roberta K. Fernandez gives us the final thoughts of a man named Jack Crawford in the last moments of his life. While driving on a freeway, after he hears what he believes is a gunshot, Crawford loses control of his car. It spins out of control across three lanes of traffic before crashing through a guardrail and plunging into a river below. That makes us eager to know more about Jack and about what led to his death.
Fernandez then opens the first chapter, introducing us to Jack’s former assistant Rita Johnson, one of the lead protagonists. She had worked with Jack for eighteen years before moving to her present position in the same software company, SpringWare, working for Mark Mason, the vice president. Mason has tasked Rita with going through Jack’s computer to retrieve what they needed to finish an important project Jack had been working on before his death. Jack Crawford had been almost like a son to Rita, who is a woman in her sixties now, and she still hasn’t come to grips with his sudden death. She anguishes over not trying harder to stay connected with him and his wife, Lori. As she reviews the folders on Jack’s computer, she discovers something odd, an encrypted folder he had named using a code word the two of them had once used for highly sensitive projects. Curious, Rita copies the files to a CD. Later, once she investigates further, Rita discovers something horrific. She feels certain Jack’s car crash was no accident. Someone murdered him and Rita comes to believe they did it because of the project Jack had worked on. Then we’re off and running into the action.
Rita keeps digging into the files she copied from Jack’s computer and learns more of the shocking truth. While SpringWare is a gaming company, she discovers that her current boss, Mason, has agreed with the NSA (the National Security Agency) to deliver a surveillance program that could collect private data on everyone using the Internet. Mason had only allowed those who worked on the software limited access to the whole to keep the purpose of the program secret. But what she found convinced Rita Jack Crawford somehow figured out the intended purpose of the software and who the client was. Growing more certain that led to his death, after some soul searching, she contacts Crawford’s widow, Lori, and tells her Jack’s death was no accident. Someone killed him to prevent him from exposing the secretive piece of software destined for the NSA.
The deeper we get into the story, the more A Knock on the Door reminds us thematically of the 1998 American political action thriller film, Enemy of the State, starring Will Smith and Gene Hackman. Like the movie, which also attacked “the surveillance society,” the plot explores what happens when powerful bureaucrats and demagogues use the power of the government to gain their own ends and cover their own tracks. And after Rita convinces Lori that someone murdered her husband over a secret surveillance program, together they continue probing, hoping to bring those responsible for Jack’s murder to justice. When two other SpringWare employees connected to the program’s development die suddenly and under suspicious circumstances, Rita and Lori realize just what they are facing and that they may very well become the next victims. They take Jacob Browning, a programmer at SpringWare, into their confidences when they feel certain his life is at risk. Jacob is the “last man standing” among those who worked on parts of the program, unaware of the software’s intended use. And Jacob’s computer skills come in handy as the trio continues uncovering evidence that not only implicates their very demanding, and not particularly pleasant boss Mark Mason in the murders, but also Carl Baxter, the ruthless head of the NSA.
Since Fernandez reveals whodunit early on, the book is far more a thriller than a mystery tale. But by throwing in several surprises along the way, she deftly raises the stakes and ratchets up the tension and heart-pounding suspense all the way through to the splendid climax.
It’s no secret I’m a stickler for authenticity with crime fiction, and must say the premise here is more than a little far-fetched in spots. As an example, in the scenario of two ordinary women trying to bring down the head of one of the nation’s most powerful and clandestine intelligence agencies, it requires little imagination to predict who would be the bug and who the windshield. Also, the story lacks a character like Brill (Gene Hackman’s character) in Enemy of the State, a former spy who understands the inner workings of the intelligence community, to help Rita and Lori. So, we can’t escape the feeling our ruthless, powerful antagonist, Carl Baxter, should easily prevail against the cast of unremarkable civilian good guys in over their heads. But by and large, the story works. In this post-Edward Snowden era, the plot feels perilously close to plausible. When many of us have watched the heads of American intelligence agencies boldly lying before Congress on television, and read about the recent politically motivated FISA court abuses by the FBI, you needn’t be paranoid to feel distrustful of many of our most powerful federal agencies. It’s not the government that is the enemy, but the unelected bureaucrats and demagogues who use the power of the government to pursue their own agendas with no conscience and seemingly no real oversight from our elected officials. This makes A Knock on the Door feel uncomfortably real.
With only a little suspension of belief required, the most demanding fast-paced thriller fans will find this a very gripping and entertaining book. Roberta K. Fernandez displays excellent story-telling ability and offers us a cast of likeable and relatable lead characters blindsided by the misused power of the state, along with a believable antagonist convinced that his job somehow places him above the law that we love to hate. From the perspective of pure escapism, I found it both an entertaining and riveting read with much to like. I could imagine easily a filmmaker adapting it for film.
I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes.
Book rating: ★★★★
About the Author
In her sixty-three years of life, Roberta Fernandez, a board-certified hypnotist, didn’t know that she had a story waiting to be told. In 2006, she attended a week-long memoir-writing class conducted by a bestselling author, Joyce Maynard. Joyce worked hard to bring out Roberta’s best work, in spite of her self-perceived lack of talent. While it was an awesome experience to be instructed by a well-known author, Roberta determined that writing about herself was not a talent she possessed. As a first-time author, Roberta now understands she was simply destined to write in a different genre. She enjoys creating relatable characters and watching the story unfold as she types. Like her readers, she wonders what’s going to happen next. A sequel to A Knock on the Door is already being written.