Maybe it’s just me, but don’t you hate it when detectives get a leg up from modern technology? I’m far from being a Luddite, but I do find it dull when the narrative trots off in the brightly-lit direction of the internet, aided and abetted by assorted blunt weaponry such as the Blackberry or iPad.
Mobile phones are the worst offenders. Every character always knows where every other character is at any given time. They can call for back-up, or just to pick the brains of a colleague. It’s good to talk, apparently. Personally I preferred the days when the hero could become perilously isolated, his call for help delayed in transit or thwarted by a vandalised phonebox.
Then there’s the research angle. A detective is brilliant at hunting down clues, extrapolating, following his nose, trying out angles. Or, you know, putting words into Google and, erm, instantly eliminating multiple avenues of investigation. He used to risk his neck doing this stuff, now the biggest threat to his wellbeing is a nasty bout of RSI.
There’s your detective novel done for, right there. RIP gumshoe hero.
As I said, I’m no Luddite. But sometimes I surprise in myself an idle wish for a satellite serial killer who will do for modern technology what the Millennium Bug was meant to do. Just, you know, so my heroes (and those of others) could have something more exciting to do all day than go online and run up a massive Orange network bill.
I wonder if this thought is behind the recent fascination with historical crime? A return to the good old days when heroes could be baffled and blind-alleyed, and had to work their socks (or clocked-stockings) off to get their man? I expect so.
The silver lining, as I see it?
Logically, since modes of investigation are becoming limited and less random, that which differentiates one author from another and one book from the rest, should be characterisation.
My favourite example right now would be Fred Vargas. Her hero, Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, is a man so enduringly quirky that even the revelation that he had a secret Facebook account couldn’t render him anything less than fascinating to read.
You can lead a man to Google, but you can’t make him think. The way in which he does that is in the hands of the author, regardless of who owns the network. So let’s hope crime writers continue to serve up intriguing characters who sometimes forget to recharge their cellphones or know better than to trust what they read online.