We’re at another stop today as we of the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme continue our treacherous travels through the alphabet. Thanks as ever to our tour guide Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for making all the arrangements and keeping us as safe as can be expected.
Our visit today is to the main offices of the legendary T Company, which makes all sorts of different kinds of ingenious little devices. Everyone’s busy planning what sorts of things they’ll bring home from the factory tour, so I think this is a good time to share my contribution for this stop: technology.
Technology is, of course, critical to today’s society. We can accomplish so much with it, and it’s become an important element of most of our lives. But it’s very much a proverbial double-edged sword. As any crime fiction fan can tell you, technology figures in a lot of mayhem too. I’ve only space here for a few examples, but you’ll soon see what I mean.
In Rex Stout’s Fer de Lance, Nero Wolfe gets a visit from Maria Maffei, who is worried about her brother Carlos. He’s disappeared with no explanation and she’s certain he’s come to harm. She’s proven right when Carlos is found stabbed to death. An article found in his possession suggests that his murder might be connected to the death of Peter Barstow, president of Holland University. Barstow was golfing when he suddenly died, seemingly from a stroke. But as it turns out, he was killed by a specially-designed golf club that Carlos Maffei made. Wolfe knows that if he finds out who killed Barstow, he’ll have the key to discovering who paid Maffei to make the golf club. So he and Archie Goodwin look into Barstow’s family life, business associations and social life to find out who would have wanted to commit murder. The sleuths do solve the mystery of the killer’s identity, and when the killer begins to suspect that they know, there’s an interesting battle of wits between Wolfe and Goodwin on the one hand and the murderer on the other.
Aaron Elkins’ Fellowship of Fear also makes some –er – very interesting use of technology. In that novel, cultural anthropologist Gideon Oliver is spending some time serving as a visiting fellow at the United States Overseas College (USOC). The plan is for him to give a series of guest lectures at various bases throughout Europe. But right from the start things go rather badly for him. First he’s attacked in his hotel room by two men who apparently think he has something of value. He makes a report to police officer John Lau, who begins to work with Oliver to try to find out who the attackers are. Then Oliver gets drawn into a whole web of international espionage and counter-espionage. Tom Marks and Hilaire Delvaux, two leaders in the NATO Security Directorate (NSD)’s counterespionage bureau, ask to see him. They tell him that they suspect Soviet spies are trying to steal something (although they’re not sure exactly what), and they want Oliver to report to them if he sees anything or anyone suspicious. Not seeing much choice in the matter, he agrees. Not long after that he’s attacked and nearly killed. He runs into other difficulties too as he travels to the different European bases. All of this convinces him that if he doesn’t figure out who at the USOC might be helping the Soviets, he’s going to continue to be a target. So he keeps asking questions and eventually gets to the truth about what’s really going on. In one particular scene, he and Lau are touring Spain’s Prado Museum. That’s when they spot a strange man with an umbrella. Something about him unsettles both men, and it turns out they are wise to be concerned. The umbrella is actually a very ingenious piece of technology that hides a gun. No, Oliver isn’t killed, but it shows you just how dangerous technology can be.
We see that in Lindy Cameron’s Redback, too. In that novel, we meet Bryn Gideon, leader of a crack Australian team of retrieval experts called Redback. Their specialty is rescuing people who are trapped in dangerous situations and they’re called in when the delegates to the Pacific Tourism and Enviro-Trade Conference are taken hostage by a group of local rebels. Team Redback succeeds in rescuing the hostages but soon gets drawn into a battle of wits against a shadowy group of international terrorists that uses local or regional terror groups to do its ‘dirty work.’ That turns out to be the connection among two murders, a devastating train bombing, and an explosion on a U.S. military base, among other violence. And just what do these terrorists use to keep their group organised and recruit and train new members? That’s right: technology. It turns out that they communicate via a new video game called Global War Tek. See what I mean about technology?
In Cat Connor’s Killerbyte, New Zealand ex-pat and FBI operative Gabrielle ‘Ellie’ Conway is passionate about poetry – her own and others’. So she co-moderates an online poetry chat room called Cobwebs. The chat room turns deadly when one of the members Carter McLaren shows up at Ellie’s home to threaten her after being banned from the room. He’s arrested but later his body is found in the trunk of Conway’s car. Conway wants to clear her name and more than that, wants to find out who killed a member (even a former member) of the chat room. So she and her co-moderator and lover Cormac ‘Mac’ Connelly try to track down the murderer. Then there’s another death. And another. It’s obvious now that the killer is targeting chat room members. Despite all of their Internet skills and knowledge, and in spite of Conway’s FBI background and skills, this killer always seems to stay one step ahead of them. But they’re not without resources themselves. In the end a non-technical (and very useful) clue puts Conway and Connelly on the right track. But throughout this novel, both they and the killer make some fairly ingenious use of technology, and in the killer’s case, it turns out to be deadly.
There’s a frightening use of technology in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes). Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck is slowly returning to duty after a line-of-duty injury that killed one of his colleagues and left the other with paralysis. He’s never really easy to work with and since his return he’s become so difficult that he’s ‘promoted’ to head a new department specially set up to investigate cases of ‘special interest.’ The first case he and his assistant Hafez al-Assad investigate is the five-year-old disappearance of up-and-coming politician Merete Lynggaard. Everyone’s always believed that she was killed in a tragic incident on a ferry, but little hints soon suggest that she may still be alive. So Mørck and Assad work to try to find her before it’s too late. And they’re up against some fairly sophisticated and scary technology as they do so…
And then there’s Anthony Bidulka’s When the Saints Go Marching In, the first of his Adam Saint novels. Saint is a specialist with the Canadian Disaster Recovery Agency (CDRA). His job is to travel to any place where Canada, its interests or its citizens are involved in any kind of disaster. Saint lives a very high-technology sort of life and since a lot of what the CDRA does and knows is classified, he also is familiar with a lot of high-security technology. Everything changes when he travels to Magadan, Russia, where CDRA head Geoffrey Krazinkski has been killed at a plane crash site. The death is passed off as a tragic accident, but Saint is soon certain that it was no accident. He’s starting to ask questions about it when a personal emergency brings him suddenly back to Canada. Saint’s personal matter means the end of his career with the CDRA, In fact, all of his access codes, all of the technology he usually uses, and all of his resources are cut off. But that doesn’t stop him from asking questions about what happened. In fact he turns out to be more effective after officially leaving the CDRA. He gets drawn into a very dangerous mission with international implications. At the heart of it all? Greed and the willingness to use technology to satisfy it.
So as you see, technology can be deadly. Not that I’d ever give up my Internet access or anything quite that drastic, but one does have to be extremely cautious around technology. Now, let’s go take that tour. Lots of fascinating little devices I can show you there…