The inspiration behind the Ericka Blackwood series comes from my nearly three decades as a prosecutor, fifteen of which were dedicated to cybercrime. Simply put, it left me with a lot of stories to tell, my own, those of colleagues, and those of investigators. I worked in this area from the time cybercrime and digital evidence became a thing, a witness to the cat and mouse game as both criminals and the police became ever more technically capable. This left me with thousands of real-life anecdotes to fictionalize and use to build my plot. So much of this happens unseen by the public even if there is a trial, so I believed I had interesting stories to tell. 

In my villain, Dantalion, I wanted to postulate a different kind of hacker, not the rational, focused kind of cyber-criminal who steals information and money. Rather, I wanted to ask the question; what if a true psychopath had control of the best in hacking tools and dark web technology? What would he do unrestrained by anything but feeding his own wants while not getting caught? Him, I built out of the psychological profile of several famous serial killers, fleshed out by the traits of many criminals I have dealt with personally. Technically formidable, his weakness is he can’t control his own wants and that makes some of his actions predictable.

My protagonist, Special Agent Ericka Blackwood, I constructed from the traits and personalities of several highly talented and dedicated police investigators I have been privileged to work with. Their work goes largely unseen and the toll that these investigations takes on them is not appreciated by the general public. PTSD and similar illnesses takes a real toll, which in my character manifests in what Ericka does with her spare time and in the ultimate decisions she makes. She battles her demons, inside and out.

Following the events of The Hacker, both Dantalion and Ericka find themselves in a very different state of affairs as The Exploit begins. His crimes in the first book have elevated him from a hidden, dark web monster to fully-fledged international terrorist in possession of extraordinarily dangerous technology. Now everyone wants him, and this changes how his mind operates. Knowing his foes are now legion, he glories in the attention. Knowing his time is running out, Dantalion moves quickly to exact vengeance on those he fancies have wronged him while escalating his hacking accomplishments, basking in narcissistic glory as he carries them out.

Ericka is bottoming out. Pressed into action by her own demons, she decided on revenge over duty. When the consequences of this sink in, she goes into hiding, shattered by her memories and barely able to function, unable to rise to give battle to a resurgent Dantalion. But rising is her only path to redemption and her adversary knows this as much as she does. Returning to continue her investigation with her old colleagues, Ericka doesn’t realize she is being manipulated into doing exactly what her foe wants. With no way back, she can see only one way forward.

 

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by Dan Scanlan
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