If you think about it there are all kinds of scientific inventions we use every day that we couldn’t have imagined just a couple of decades ago. It’s actually pretty amazing. For instance a lot of people have given up their landlines entirely and now communicate exclusively on mobile telephones. I’ll get to other examples in just a bit; for now, just think of the difference mobile and satellite technology has made in our lives. It’s true in real life and we certainly see it in crime fiction.
For instance in Martin Edwards’ The Serpent Pool, DCI Hannah Scarlett and her team investigate the six-year-old drowning death of Bethany Friend. It turns out that her death may be related to two other, more recent, deaths. So Scarlett works with her friend and colleague Fern Larter, who is in charge of those investigations, to find out how the murders are connected and who is responsible for them. At one point in the novel Scarlett arranges to meet with Oxford historian Daniel Kind to discuss the case with him. Kind’s running late but it’s not a huge problem; all he has to do is send a text message to Scarlett telling her he’s delayed in traffic. That couldn’t have happened fifteen years ago.
We see a similar advance in C.J. Box’s Below Zero. In that novel Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett is up against the Mad Archer, an unknown hunter who’s illegally shooting game and leaving them to die. Pickett rushes home when his daughter Sheridan begins to receive eerie text messages from the Pickett family’s step-daughter April Keeley, whom everyone thinks was tragically killed six years ago. Pickett wants to find April if she is still alive. If she has died he wants to know who knew so much about April that it was possible to feign her identity. Neither this mystery nor its solution would have been possible just ten or twelve years ago.
And what about the joystick? Val McDermid’s video-game-loving sleuth Tony Hill would probably find it quite difficult to get along without this scientific invention. Hill is a profiler who works most frequently with DCI Carol Jordan and sometimes his work is both dangerous and difficult. It takes quite a toll on Hill so it makes sense that he’d want something to help him relax. Video games are his choice. Without the invention of the joystick his whole character would be different. Fans of Tony Hill will likely agree that part of what makes him unique is his attachment to gaming.
In Lindy Cameron’s Redback, the joystick takes on a more sinister purpose. In that novel, a crack Australian team of retrieval specialists have earned a reputation as experts in getting people out of extremely dangerous situations. This time they’re up against one of the most dangerous enemies they’ve ever faced. Several horrible terrorist attacks and a murder have occurred in different parts of the world. When Team Redback finds out they track down the threads that tie these terrorist acts together. They discover that a behind-the-scenes group of terrorists is using a video game called Global WarTek to recruit new members and give them instructions. Joystick technology isn’t mentioned specifically in this novel, but it’s an essential part of modern gaming.
And what about the modern microchip? We can all think of dozens and dozens of crime novels in which computer technology is critical. I’ll just mention two examples. Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy features computer wizard Lisbeth Salander. In those novels, Salander proves herself a master of the microchip as she tracks down information, hacks others’ computers and manipulates all sorts of financial transactions.
There’s also Kerry Greenwood’s Heavenly Pleasures. In that novel, Greenwood’s sleuth Corinna Chapman and her lover Daniel Cohen investigate a few mysteries, one of which is a bomb in the building in which Chapman lives and works. The bomb may be related to a case Cohen’s been investigating – a self-proclaimed messiah who’s been luring young people away from their homes. Or it could be related to a case of poisoned chocolates at Heavenly Pleasures, a confectionary located in the same building. Or it could have something to do with a mysterious new resident in the building. The key to the bombing turns out to be information that’s stored digitally – something that couldn’t be done before the advent of the microchip.
Oh, and then there’s enhanced photography. Photographs prove essential in Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Roseanna. In that novel Stockholm police detective Martin Beck and his team solve the murder of twenty-seven-year-old Roseanna McGraw. She’s an American who’s murdered during a holiday cruise in Sweden. What makes this case challenging is that when the victim’s body is discovered there is no identification with it. At the time this novel was written there was no DNA testing so it takes weeks for the body to be identified. Finally Roseanna McGraw is identified but communicating with Nebraska police lieutenant Elmer Kafka is challenging. At the time this novel was written there was no satellite technology that would have made a transatlantic telephone call easy. A break in the case finally comes when the police start paying attention to photographs that other tourists took of the cruise. That phase of the investigation takes a long time too because developing the ‘photos takes time. Besides, they’re not high-resolution quality. All in all it takes months for Martin Beck and his team to track down Roseanna McGraw’s killer. Can you imagine how much more quickly the team could have cracked this case if they’d had satellite technology and digital imaging?
So where did all of these great developments I’ve mentioned here come from? That’s right. Scientific research. Science, the scientific method and the scientific approach to inquiry has led to more advances than I could ever mention in a year of posting. Suffice it to say that the decades of research that so many scientists have engaged in have revolutionised the way we live. And that, to me, is a good thing.
ps. Want an example of what I mean? Today’s post, including the ‘photo, was planned, written and posted to my blog using a tablet computer that fits in a medium-sized handbag. Ain’t science amazing?
Oh, and at the risk of going on too long on this topic, tomorrow I’ll be taking a look at some crime fiction that features scientists. Here’s to ‘em!
This post is dedicated to the memory of Neil Armstrong. Not only was he a noted astronaut but also, he was a dedicated scientist. All of the developments I’ve mentioned in today’s post came about because of the space program that took Armstrong and his colleagues to the moon. He was one of those who boldly went…
Note: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Two Thousand Years.