Friday, April 05, 2024

Virtual Book Tour - The Machine Murders: Desert Balloons by C.J. Abazis

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The Machine Murders

by CJ Abazis

March 25-April 5, 2024 Virtual Book Tour


The Machine Murders by CJ Abazis

Desert Balloons

A Dubai balloon festival is attacked by the most lethal social engineering exploit the world has ever seen. Pilots die. Local politics crumble. Is AI to blame?

A prime moment to be working for Interpol.

Manos Manu, Interpol data scientist, arrives in the United Arab Emirates to solve a series of murders that have shaken the Middle East.

Interpol’s Singapore back office has proven world-class, with a machine learning team of the best engineers from around the globe - including Manos’ girlfriend Mei. Tested under pressure in the field, his custom system is nothing short of brilliant.

But this time, his arch-nemesis is not simply a killer. Not even a web of determined developers, scattered across the world.

His enemy is his very own nature.

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense
Published by: Publisto
Publication Date: January 2024
Number of Pages: 284
ISBN: 979-8871582299
Series: The Machine Murders, 2 (stand alone novels)
Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:


Manos Manu was running his fingertip along the spines of books, as if automatically scanning their contents. He knew his data would be crystal-clear seen below the Singapore sun which grew hotter every day, but for the moment it was as though he could hear it, the data echoing like the descending scales of a piano, every note feeding a neural network. From one shelf to the next, his query never wavered: What is the soul?

“Bye, Baby! Planning on wasting much time there?” Blowing a kiss over her lovely shoulder, Mei was gone.

Leaving what? Artificial intelligence has consciousness, even ingenuity. So what sets machines apart from humans besides the soul?

He turned back to the books. There weren’t that many: Barber’s Bayesian Reasoning, works of Bishop and Hinton, Sutton’s Reinforcement Learning: An Introduction, and a few titles about neural nets. There was also an untouched Michael Crichton mystery, though not Jurassic Park. But such was Mei. If you want history, she’d say, read papers. If you want to learn, read code. If you need to know what people are saying about a piece of code, jump on X. Books were about as useful to AI as military theory was on the battlefield. What you need in the trenches is ammunition. In AI, just code. Just GitHub, the goings-on of which were too big for any conceivable library.

He also couldn’t stop thinking of Lena Sideris. In the two months since his return from Greece he kept remembering her body, cut open on a marble table like a broken porcelain doll being sent back to the factory. Her eyes glassy orbs. Did they hold consciousness? Emotion? They didn’t. A soul? He didn’t trace the spines of books now, but grabbed one of Barber’s works, opened to a random page and ripped it out. He returned it to the shelf, moving on to Sutton and all the others, tearing out a page from each one till he had about fifty. Incomplete, these books would now confront anyone reading them with inconsistency. Making sure the books were replaced perfectly so that Mei would never notice, he shredded the pages in his hands till they looked like ticker-tape confetti and went back out onto the balcony.

Different weather awaited him. Broad heavy clouds skittered across the sun’s rays, leaving traces as if from speeding aircraft. He threw some of the shreds over the glass railing, where the wind swept them past the ceiling, high overhead. He hurled the rest into the air and stared, mesmerized by their flight.

Was this a gesture Artificial General Intelligence would choose to make?

It wasn’t. An AGI would have carefully selected which pages to discard. He’d barely thought to read them.

This was futile, illogical, diabolical. He’d destroyed books from his beloved’s library.

And he felt wonderful.

Was this having a soul? He’d committed a decidedly wicked act. This is what separates us from machines. Evil.

Then he remembered what he’d been trying to forget: And murder.


It was Sunday morning and the first time she’d left him alone at her place. Before long, he received a message to meet up for brunch at Marina Bay. Mei would also swing by the office for the latest build of Mei-Nu, which was the name of their custom-made dating platform. They’d sifted through the crawled data correlating user profiles from sites like Tinder, Bubble, Coffee Meets Bagel, and Lovoo, elaborating a few of their own layers beyond basic personality tests. But both knew Myers-Briggs would only get them so far.

They needed more and better data: time to start seeing other people.

He arrived at Jypsy, late as usual. Mei was already seated with a couple at a table overlooking the Marina.

“And here’s Manos!” Mei called, with a cheerful smile.

“Sorry. Traffic,” he mumbled, his eyes fixed on his new date.

Her name was Daria, a pretty twenty-seven year old maritime attorney. She was of average build with big Anime eyes. Her psychometrics had indicated she was the enfp type, matching well with Manos’ intj. Creative, funny, a communicator. A handful, like him. He glanced over at Mei’s match, who was clearly regretting he’d come at all.

Mei launched their routine: “Thanks so much for meeting like this. I just wouldn’t feel comfortable by myself. Manos is a faithful friend.”

“Of course!” gushed Daria. “I’m chicken too - on dates, I mean . . .”

Bullshit. She’s fearless.

“It’s a bit strange,” said the young man. “A blind double date. It’s a good idea, but . . .”

His name was Marc, a banker from France. Type infp: diplomatic, introverted, yet apparently open-minded. Manos sensed he was very attracted to Mei and felt a pang of jealousy. Who wouldn’t be crazy about her? He would have to get used to it. Mei read his thoughts with a breezy smile before focusing on her date. They had work to do. For the next half hour, Manos and Mei worked through their mental checklist item by item to examine the people caught for them by the neural network they’d cast. This tête-à-tête had parameters culled from a somewhat small set of their respective right-swipes. Hidden biases lurked. For all. For example, if, as he claimed, Manos preferred the Chinese type to the Mediterranean - say, the actress Sun Li versus a Lena Sideris - then what the hell was Daria doing here, with her cascading black curls, fresh as lemon groves on the Amalfi coast?

With well-preprocessed data, even half an algorithm nails you!

Half an hour of small talk revealed where they were from, where they worked, their favorite movies, where they would love to travel, Like, if you could just leave tomorrow . . . .

It also revealed to Manos they’d made a mistake. Sex was a mistake. Which made Daria a mistake.

They had pulled profiles without timestamp-based clustering. This allowed data from hastily created profiles, like those made by married travelers looking for a quick hookup, which they hadn’t had time to isolate from the training datasets. Classic case of overfitting[1]. The algorithms worked, but with so much noisy data, spontaneity was redefined as fear. Fear’s not attractive. Fear degenerated into aggression and haste. Since we’re here, let’s do it right on the seafood bar, by the open oysters . . .

Another possible issue was voiced by Marc, who was saying:

“I’m not convinced double blind dates work.”

But Mei knew the problem was Manos himself. Always botching things! Attempting to "eliminate system biases” he’d added a stupid line of code actually designed to test the weights of their own Asian-American romance: sorted_data = sorted(data, key=lambda x: x['Asian']). Sweet of him, really.

Daria and Marc, each suspicious of these two nutjobs giving each other flirtatious looks and running the conversation along some shared secret formula, suddenly got up to use the restrooms.

Mei opened her laptop, steam practically coming out of her ears.

“I saw it this morning! I can’t believe you!”

“I don’t think it’s the command,” he murmured.

“The data –”

“Mei, it’s psychology, it’ not smooth world[2]. Anyway,” he smiled, cooling the tension. “I think Marc likes you.”

“You know he’s not my type.”

“Oh, but trust your data.”

“Manos Manu, are you trying to get rid of me?”

“No,” he said. “You’re my ground truth.”

Ground truth. A tech term they’d appropriated, meaning she mattered more to Manos than anything. Mei flushed with a thrill as he pulled her close, kissing her. They were swept up in vertigo, their kisses wet in all the right places. The world disappeared, as if their neurons were drunk and brimming over.

Until Daria reappeared. With Marc.

Neither took their seats. Instead they stood staring.

“I guess blind dates work out after all,” Marc teased.

Daria gave a crooked smile, a few locks of her glossy hair spiraling out wildly. Something had apparently happened in the bathroom.

“Noise!” cried Manos, triumphant.

Mei’s smile was as funny as Daria’s as she tumbled back into Manos’ arms. In the confusion, Daria’s much-needed enfp leadership came to the rescue.

“Ok, this started off wrong, but let’s make it right,” she said. “Marc and I want to hit a beach club in Sentosa.”

They all looked at each other, and Daria added, “You guys are super-nerds, but . . . do you want to come?”


[1] Machine learning term. Manos means the models they used were overly complex, resulting in incorporating irrelevant data in order to achieve the desired outcome ("noise"), such as the profiles of married individuals, for example.

[2] “Law of the smooth world” in machine learning refers to real-world data,


Excerpt from The Machine Murders by CJ Abazis. Copyright 2024 by CJ Abazis. Reproduced with permission from CJ Abazis. All rights reserved.




4 stars!

Unique and cerebral search for a killer. 

The Machine Murders: Desert Balloons is the second book in author C.J. Abazis’s cerebral cat-and-mouse series featuring Interpol’s chief data scientist, Manos Manu, and his team of geniuses at the Global Center for Innovation. With pilots from the international hot balloon community descending on Dubai for the inaugural Carol Cloud Festival start to get picked off one by one, it is up to Manos and his team to unlock the puzzle of who or what is behind their murders. 

Manos and his team members are a serious and accomplished group, but they still exhibit a warm camaraderie as they research and refine their MANU program to hunt down a killer mastermind. An early misunderstanding between Manos and Mei while working on another project has put their relationship to the test. Still, Manos cheats on his girlfriend when he’s stranded overnight in the desert with a married woman. 

The plot unfolds with descriptions and meaty discussions of intricate computer processes and theories, integrated with psychological theories, principles of human thought and behavior, and predictive testing, including the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as Manos and Mei dabble with a dating app side project. However, the focus on refining the MANU algorithm, although realistic, got repetitive. While I struggled to maintain enthusiasm for the process, I enjoyed the character interactions. 

The story can be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novel; however, there is quite a lot of reference to their previous case in Mykonos. I think the books should be read in order of publication to better understand the current action and connect with the recurring characters. There are many characters to keep track of as the story progresses, some with unusual names or similar names to others or with more than one spelling or a nickname. This got a little confusing, and I finally had to keep a manual list to keep everyone straight. A page of footnotes, provided at the end of the book, was especially helpful, though, with some of the terminology and ideas presented early on. 

I recommend THE MACHINE MURDERS: DESERT BALLOONS to mystery readers with a comfortable grasp of computer terminology, application development and testing, and A.I. theory.

Author Bio:

CJ Abazis

CJ Abazis manages a software company in Athens, Greece.

Catch Up With CJ Abazis:
BookBub - @abazis
Instagram - @themachinemurders
Twitter/X - @CJAbazis
Facebook - @manosmanuseries



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1 comment:

Wall-to-wall books said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this interesting sounding book.