Look around you for a moment. My guess is that there’s a good chance that you’re only a few feet (at most) away from…your telephone. Of course, today’s telephones do a whole lot more than just let people make calls wherever they are. For instance, mine lets me keep up with the blogs I read, make comments, engage with my online students, take photographs, read the news, do Internet research, and get just about wherever I want to go without getting lost. And mine isn’t a particularly upmarket model.
A lot of people will say they’ve come to really depend on their telephones. But just as many people think of them as, at best, mixed blessings. For one thing, telephones can be awfully intrusive. When colleagues and others can reach you at any time, they frequently do just that. And it can be very difficult to avoid (or break) the habit of checking email or texting instead of being more tuned in to wherever you are.
Telephones can make a person vulnerable, too. Just think of all the private information that may be on yours. There are other ways as well in which telephones can be used against a person. And that’s just why they can also be interesting parts of crime novels.
In Stefan Tegenfalk’s Project Nirvana, for example, Stockholm County police detectives Walter Gröhn and Jonna de Brugge get involved in an international investigation when the German police seek Sweden’s help in solving the murders of four German scientists. There’s reason to believe that Swedish national Leo Brageler is the killer, but there seems no motive. The German authorities are hoping that the Swedish National Bureau of Investigation can help them link Brageler to the scientists. There are other possibilities as to the killer, though, and Gröhn and his team want to explore those too. At one point in the novel, de Brugge has followed a lead to one particular possible suspect, and finds out almost too late that her telephone has made her vulnerable. I can’t say more than that without giving away too much, but I can say that it’s not one of those ‘didn’t bring telephone with me and am all alone’ sort of situations.
In Peter James’ Not Dead Yet, Brighton and Hove Superintendent Roy Grace is working on the strange murder case of a man whose torso was found in an abandoned chicken coop. He’s also been assigned to help protect international superstar Gaia Lafayette during her upcoming stay in Brighton, where she’s making a film. Along with everything else, he’s concerned that someone in his department might be leaking details of some of the team’s investigations. So, he’s advised to have the High Tech team look at his Blackberry to see if someone’s gotten access to some of the information there. That plot thread shows how someone might hack a mobile device. It also shows how vulnerable privileged information can be.
Another police investigation is compromised in Kazuhiro Kiuchi’s Shield of Straw. In that novel, SP (Special Police) officer Kazuki Mekari of the Tokyo Municipal Police Department (MPD) gets a very difficult assignment. He is told to take a team to Fukuoka and escort a prisoner back to Tokyo. But this is no ordinary prisoner. This is Kunihide Kiyomaru, who is responsible for raping and killing the granddaughter of wealthy business magnate Takaoki Ninagawa. And Ninagawa has taken the unusual step of offering a very public billion-yen reward to anyone who kills Kiyomaru. Mekari and his team go to Fukuoka, collect their prisoner, and begin the journey back to Tokyo. But they soon run into trouble. Wherever they go, it seems that news of their presence gets there first, and they have to contend with crowds of people, many of whom are eager to claim the reward money. Despite spur-of-the-moment changes of plans, they don’t seem to be able to break free of the many people who are trying to kill Kiyomaru. Someone keeps publishing detailed live GPS information about their whereabouts. It’s a scary reminder of how easy it can be to get that sort of data and misuse it.
In Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me? we are introduced to new mum Yvonne Mulhern. She’s recently moved from London to Dublin with her husband, Gerry, so that he can take advantage of a good career opportunity. Yvonne loves her husband, but he’s gone much of the time, and she’s overwhelmed by the demands a new baby makes. In need of support and company, she turns to an online forum called Netmammy, a group of other new mothers. Yvonne finds great solace in the online group. There’s even a very telling scene in which she’s at a real-life party with her husband, but uses her ‘phone to access the site. And she’s not the only member who’s that drawn to the group. Then, one of the members seems to disappear, and Yvonne gets concerned. Then, the body of a woman is discovered in an empty apartment. Sgt. Claire Boyle and her team investigate, and try to trace the victim’s last days and weeks. The woman’s profile (age and so on) is very similar to Yvonne Mulhern’s missing online friend. Is it the same woman? And if so, what might this mean for the other members of Netmammy? This novel points out, among other things, just how much information we reveal online without always knowing it. And it shows how much a person can find out by picking up a telephone.
There’s also Max Kinnings’ Baptism, in which criminals make use of a mobile ‘phone. London Underground driver George Wakeman is getting ready for work one morning when his home is invaded by three hostage-takers. They take his wife and children prisoner, and give him a mobile ‘phone. Then they tell him to go to his job and follow every instruction he is given. With no other choice, Wakeman does as the hostage-takers say, and drives to his job. Using the number of the telephone they’ve given him, the criminals direct Wakeman to begin his route as normal, so he gets into the cab of his train and starts the route. The hostage-takers board the train, too, and it pulls out from the station. After a time, Wakeman is ordered to stop in a tunnel. Soon enough, Wakeman learns why he has been targeted. The team wants to take his entire train (with about 400 passengers) hostage. DCI Ed Mallory, an experienced negotiator, is assigned to the case to see if he can find out what these people want and whether he can free the passengers before it’s too late.
See what I mean? Of course today’s telephones are incredibly useful. But sometimes, they’re more dangerous than you know. Oh, wait! Excuse me, please, I just got an email and I really need to check it…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Buzzcocks’ Phone.