FeaturedThriller & Suspense

Death in the Cloud

By

Loved it! 😍

As Michael Nicholas comes to terms with the secret he has regarding his deceased brother, he is called to help save the world he knows well!

Synopsis

Death in the Cloud is the story of Alex Nicholas, an underworld figure who duplicates himself on a computer - just before he is murdered.

Monsignor Kurt Schlegelberger, is a Nazi-worshipping anarchist looking to destroy the world order by inciting a nuclear war between the US and Russia.

As a prelude, he orchestrates the hijacking of an airliner aiming it at the White House making it appear to have been orchestrated by the Russians. The jet is shot down just as it is about to hit its target.

Schlegelberger uses Alex’s AI capabilities to duplicate himself using Alex’s software, hacks into the weapons systems of both countries, and launches a US attack on Russia. The scenes move between the bunkers in the White House and the Kremlin as both nation's leaders are faced with determining what is really happening, in a pressurized fifteen minutes.

The White House calls upon the virtual Alex Nicholas to stop Schlegelberger - but there is one catch: if Alex provides the software source codes necessary to destroy Schegelberger, he too will be destroyed.

Death in the Cloud shows where AI may take us and the fragility of life under the umbrella of mutual nuclear deterrence.

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and E. J. Simon for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.


In a series that has grown exponentially in its depth and degree of action, E.J. Simon brings what is surely his best work to date with this novel. Working angles of artificial intelligence and nuclear warfare, Simon injects a thriller that will have readers flipping pages simply to determine how things will resolve themselves. A series to note for those who need something lighter, but still seek reading entertainment throughout!


Michael Nicholas took on more than he expected when obtaining the laptop belonging to his deceased brother, Alex. Not only wanting to be a fond memory for his younger brother, Alex also sought to communicate with Michael in the age of technology. The laptop, full of programs that create an artificial intelligence version of the elder Nicholas, permit Alex to communicate in real time using many complex algorithms. With a constant connection to the internet and ability to pull things from the cloud, Alex grows smarter and provides Michael with key information on essential topics, wherever possible.


The brothers know who had Alex killed and even the depths to which the Vatican tried to cover it up. There remains a group who seek to utilise this technology for themselves, creating a neo-Nazi group that will be able to topple any government and run effectively by using the technology Alex held dear to withstand anything put in their way. Its leader is the conniving Claus Dietrich, with Monsignor Kurt Schlegelberger, a former member of the Vatican, as its loyal foot soldier. Schlegelberger may have met an untimely death at the hands of Michael Nicholas, but the acquisition of the artificial intelligence that Alex uses has made the monsignor even more powerful, ready to act and leave the world trembling as it watches.  


When a previously missing aircraft emerges in the skies over Washington, it’s a mad scramble to determine where it had been and what the plan is now. A skittish pilot, given a mission to crash land, is having second thoughts, which is not entirely what Kurt Schlegelberger wants to hear. Able to commandeer control of the aircraft, the White House its target, Schlegelberger does all in his power through computer controls to create damage of incalculable proportions. Only the last-ditch efforts of the US Government can bring it down, where certain truths seem to surface soon thereafter.


The plane was full of passengers, including Russia’s leading opposition member who has a long history of speaking out against the current regime. All eyes turn to Moscow and a leader ready to wrest world control away from the Americans. And yet, Michael Nicholas may hold all the answers, bundled into the laptop he possesses. When Nicholas is summoned to the White House, he presents what he has to the president, though Alex is not entirely on board with the display. This is, after all, still his secret from the world.


A reluctant Alex does make an appearance and surmises that this may not have been the Russian attack it appears to be on the surface. Still trying to piece it all together, Alex and Michael wonder if Monsignor Schlegelberger could be behind this, as there was a time he knew of the technological capabilities that Alex possessed. Extrapolating from there, with the ability to control things through the cloud, might Schlegelberger be able to play a game of chess between the American and Russian governments, thereby allowing his neo-Nazi regime to waltz into a power vacuum?


While all this is coming together, Michael remains firm in not revealing Alex’s secret to the world, even those closest to the brothers. However, Alex’s widow is becoming quite suspicious and no longer accepts all that she’s been fed. The coffin with Alex’s body has been unearthed and an unknown body sits therein. A secretive priest offers up a box of ashes, citing Alex’s desire to be cremated, though this does not sound like Alex at all. Is Alex Nicholas dead, or in hiding and perpetrating some fantastic ruse elsewhere?


When Schlegelberger is able to pull off an amazing hack on American soil, he’s ready to enact the final part of his plan, one that will see the two great powers on the verge of complete annihilation. Top officials have only one solution to stop Schlegelberger once and for all. With nuclear warheads in the equation, nothing is off limits, even if it means sacrificing Alex Nicholas’ artificial intelligence in the process.


The journey on which E. J. Simon has taken me in this series proves to be highly entertaining and thought provoking at the same time. Some might call it lighter fare, though this does not diminish the impact of the novels and actually leaves me to ask some things of myself. Questions surrounding technological phenomena, such as artificial intelligence and its usefulness moving into the 21st century, balance nicely within this thriller genre that has become more complex as the novels progress. Simon posts many questions within the narrative while also showing just how seamless the transition can be, as he peppers some morality in there for the reader to consider as well.


Michael Nicholas remains a strong protagonist, having morphed into a man on a mission, rather than the international financier of the early novels. His role to discover the truth behind his brother’s action finds him answering questions he has not pondered, while also being pushed to provide solutions to the Leader of the Free World in his spare time. Michael struggles with it all, pulled well outside his comfort zone, though he seeks to be as helpful as possible to those who seek his assistance. He’s grown throughout the series, both as a character and with the reader, especially as he plunges deeper into the plot.


Yet again, Simon uses a cast of secondary characters to keep the story moving through its full-fledged dedication to the thriller genre. Kurt Schlegelberger remains the dastardly villain, paired with an equally problematic Claus Dietrich, both of whom offer a needed counterbalance to all the Nicholas Brothers are doing throughout the story. The Schlegelberger-Alex clash at the artificial intelligence level is supported, in a way, through Michael and Dietrich, providing an interesting flavouring of how things come together towards the latter portion of the book. There are also a number of recurring characters, all of whom offer the reader some advancement in subplots that round out a highly entertaining read.


As the series morphs from a technological ‘what if’ into a true ‘edge of your seat’ collection, E.J. Simon leaves the reader with much to ponder throughout. There are moral and social issues that emerge, as well as a strong thriller theme throughout.

While reading the summary alone may give the impression of something a tad ‘light’ or ‘hokey’, Simon pens a piece that is anything but. His attention to detail and short chapters keep the reader wanting more. The writing is fluid in the series, making one book easily move into the next. These are not standalones, though Simon does offer some flashback summaries in the early part of the book. My bingeing of them helped me see just how strong things can get and the reader is surely in for a wild ride. With a teaser for a fifth (!) book, I am eager to see how things will progress, in new and exciting theatres. This is surely a series curious readers ought to try, if only to give themselves something a little different from their usual fare.


Kudos, Mr. Simon, for another great novel. I am truly intrigued as to where you intend on taking the plot and what other topics are left to broach!



Reviewed by

I love to read and review all sorts of books. My passion is crime and thrillers, but there are so many other genres that pique my attention.

While I am not a full-time reader, I try to dedicate as much time to my passion as possible, as can be seen on my blog and Goodreads.

Synopsis

Death in the Cloud is the story of Alex Nicholas, an underworld figure who duplicates himself on a computer - just before he is murdered.

Monsignor Kurt Schlegelberger, is a Nazi-worshipping anarchist looking to destroy the world order by inciting a nuclear war between the US and Russia.

As a prelude, he orchestrates the hijacking of an airliner aiming it at the White House making it appear to have been orchestrated by the Russians. The jet is shot down just as it is about to hit its target.

Schlegelberger uses Alex’s AI capabilities to duplicate himself using Alex’s software, hacks into the weapons systems of both countries, and launches a US attack on Russia. The scenes move between the bunkers in the White House and the Kremlin as both nation's leaders are faced with determining what is really happening, in a pressurized fifteen minutes.

The White House calls upon the virtual Alex Nicholas to stop Schlegelberger - but there is one catch: if Alex provides the software source codes necessary to destroy Schegelberger, he too will be destroyed.

Death in the Cloud shows where AI may take us and the fragility of life under the umbrella of mutual nuclear deterrence.

Chapter 1

Now he remembered everything. It began with the murder – his murder. Who remembers such a thing?

He was at his old restaurant, Grimaldi’s in Whitestone, Queens, sitting across from Maria, the woman he sold it to years ago. Veal parmigiana, bubbling tomato sauce and mozzarella still sizzling on his plate. Alex was feeling his age, his knees ached, his shoulder sore under his custom-tailored blue sport jacket, the second Chivas just beginning to dull the pain. Too many years playing ball, too many late nights at the bar.

He felt the bitter winter breeze as the door from the street opened. Looking up he watched the kid with the Mets cap enter and walk up to the bar, brushing off the snow from his oddly light jacket. He looked out of place among the bar’s typical late-night clientele of tough guys in leather coats.

He turned his attention back to Maria, a beautiful woman, long dark hair, and a perpetual tan, in her late forties, who had accidentally become too close a friend for him to pursue romantically. He wished he’d caught it in time.

There was sudden movement, heads turned toward the kid in the Mets cap, who was approaching him – too quickly in a place where sudden movements weren’t welcomed. Alex knew right away he should have paid more attention, and that whatever was going to happen would be too late to stop. He tried to quickly get up from the table. Maria, her back to the action, looked at him, clearly puzzled. He saw the silver gun barrel pointed at him and then a flash, the sound of thunder, the smoke from the gun, a sharp burn tearing through his chest, and then, as

the kid put the gun’s barrel to his head and fired, a sense of imploding inside his head.

And then, again, just to be sure, more shots. Each a lightning strike inside his brain.

Yet his eyes still worked. He saw his plate of half eaten veal parm, now a darker shade of red than the tomato sauce that had been there. It was blood, his blood, blending with the molten mozzarella. He wouldn’t touch it now, not that he’d get the chance. Funny the things that run through your brain just before the power goes out.

***

Alex had slept well. At least that was what he thought. He felt renewed. Or was it . . . refreshed? Maybe like his old computer after he turned it off and then back on. Suddenly, he found himself recalling new things, scenes he thought he missed but had heard about from others. They had now entered his mind. He could see them, vividly.

There was more gunfire, as his cop friends bolted up from their drinks and dinners and shot the kid who murdered him. Good, he thought. Whoever the hell he was, he got what he deserved. Then the conversations they thought he couldn’t hear as everyone knelt over him, cushioning his bloody head. His friends didn’t care if they got blood on their clothes.

“He’s gone,” someone said. “It’s over.

He could hear sirens in the background, cops on walkie-talkies, women, screaming.

Maria, the beautiful bar owner he had been having dinner with, “Oh my God, Alex, oh my God.” You can tell who you friends are when you’re shot dead in front of them.

Then there was the hearse...he loved black Cadillacs; the funeral, and the casket he had always thought he would want closed but now was happy it was open. Not that it mattered — from his viewpoint he could see everything; he was just glad they could see him.

Michael was giving the eulogy.

“I’m Alex’s brother. We were 10 years apart in age. . .

Alex’s loves were his friends and family – his son, George, all three of his wives, Pam, Greta, and Donna - he was the first one to admit he wasn’t a good husband - baseball - the Yankees, music - Sinatra, Johnny Cash - women, particularly younger ones. Oh, and he loved his dinners.

He was a great athlete and would have signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates out of high school if our parents hadn’t forced him to go to college.

As popular as he was, he took a neighbor to her high school prom, a dwarf, He knew no one else was going ask her. . .

He’d fight – often picking on the bullies, never the weak. . .

He was tough, stubborn and he had a temper, but underneath, he was vulnerable and he had a huge heart that he hid beneath the tough-guy persona we all saw. . .

Alex wasn’t built for old age. Perhaps he was fortunate to be spared those years.

We will miss him. If there’s a God, Alex is in heaven – and God will have his hands full.

From inside, he looked up at the white silky, cheap polyester ridges of cloth liner; the casket’s fabric acting like a frame around each mourner as they filed by: his son George had finally put a tie on, not bad for forty; his brother Michael; his old friends; and a few enemies.

He watched as his wives, the three of them in succession, each younger than the last, passed, in the chronological order of their marriage, by the coffin. They all had at least two

things in common: perfectly proportioned size 34D breasts, compliments of Alex’s good friend, Dr. Armand Simonetti, the famous Park Avenue plastic surgeon, and they all wore Chanel No. 9 perfume. He loved the scent. Even now, he could smell them through the funereal lilies. He gave that same perfume to all his wives – and lovers. It came in handy on those nights when he cheated on them; they’d never catch a different scent from another woman.

First came Pam, the original love of his life, the blonde, perpetually tanned cheerleader from high school. They married young, too young, yet had a great relationship both before they married and after they were divorced. Not so much in between. He would continue to see Pam after their divorce and throughout his next two marriages.

Then Greta Garbone, the horrific mistake anyone who is married three or more times must make, although she did give Alex his only child. Greta had married him because she thought he’d make her a movie star. Right after they were married, she changed her name from Rosemary to Greta, figuring it would look better on the movie credits. She wanted Alex to move to LA. “Yeah, we’ll move to LA,” he told her one night they were both drunk, “when you look like Angelina Jolie.” It all really soured when he tried to get her to star in a porn film. She finally ran off with a magician who she thought had an upcoming act in Vegas, but it turned out to be Asbury Park, New Jersey, instead.

As it turned out, it was Greta, bitter over her divorce and blaming Alex even for her split with the magician, who put him here in this casket. She and some much-older, washed-up Mafia guy, Joseph Sharkey, fell in love – and Sharkey hired the kid to shoot Alex. She got revenge and Sharkey got in her good graces. It didn’t end well for Greta, though, but that was another long story.

Finally, Donna Finkelstein, his widow and possibly the happiest person in the church. She would be rich now. That said it all.

His brother Michael, dressed in his stylish navy suit. They’d never been quite as close as he’d hoped. Michael was so different. More into books instead of bookies, so straight, hard to get close to. His wife Samantha, a good-looking blonde but not Alex’s type, too smart, pushy. Their daughter Sophia. Tall, good-looking, too. Another smart one. Nice. All of them, including Michael, who was a little snobby for Alex’s taste, but who didn’t act that way toward him?

Then his friends – all of them for most of his life – Russell Munson, Fat and Skinny Lester, Shugo the bartender, Joe Sal, “the surgeon,” who owned the biggest auto body shop in Queens, Jerry, Freddie the barber, the other Jerry, Raven, John, and so many more.

He heard the music as they were carrying him out of the church, felt the casket being tilted—they must have been going down the front steps of the church—followed by the ride in the back of the hearse. The drivers didn’t give a shit, they were talking about getting home for dinner. One of them stole the ring off his finger before they locked the casket.

He could smell the grass as they opened the rear gate of the hearse and carried him out to the – his – gravesite. It was almost over, like the last moments of a killer’s trial; soon it would just be him, trapped alone in the cell, the jury, judge, family all gone home from the courthouse.

The Greek priest Father Papadopoulos gave his sermon. What was he thinking? Did he really believe all this stuff he was saying? Alex would be the only person there who would know the truth.

People were probably thinking: It’s almost over. Saying to each other, You wanna meet for a drink? The sound of the dirt falling on his coffin as he was dropped lower and lower, being let down into the earth. How long would it take before the seal of the casket gave out and he was . . . exposed to . . . whatever else the dirt held? He wanted to open the lid, hoping against all hope that Fat Lester would reach down with his meaty hand and pull him up from the dirt before it was too late, before everyone threw their roses and walked away to go home or out for dinner, leaving him, alone, buried under the earth, at the mercy of the gangs who came at night, drank vodka, smoked weed and pissed on the headstones.

But he was still there.

About the author

I’m a member of the Author’s Guild and the North Carolina Writer’s Network. I earned a BA in Journalism from the University of South Carolina and an MA in Communications from Fairfield University and have done further graduate study at the New School for Social Research. view profile

Published on November 24, 2020

80000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Thriller & Suspense

Reviewed by