Thursday, March 21, 2013
I was intrigued by David Cole's entry last Saturday about how the internet and technology figures large in modern mysteries, and it behooves a mystery novelist to educate herself on the subject.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately, because I am in the process of writing my first mystery novel with a modern setting. My six previous published mysteries are all set in the American Southwest at the beginning of the 20th Century, and as I work on this contemporary story, I realize that I'm dealing with an entirely different species of literature. I've heard authors say that they think writing historical mysteries is more difficult than contemporary, but I beg to differ?
Not for me. Of course, I have already garnered quite an education about pre-World War I Oklahoma in the course of writing six books (Seven and a half, really. They have not all seen the light of day.) When it comes to Twenty-first Century crime solving techniques, I am starting from scratch.
1. I learned almost immediately that even if I'm not writing a police procedural, police procedure is going to be involved. No one in the present-day United States is going to get himself murdered without the police showing up and doing what police do unless the author undertakes all sorts of gyrations to place the victim, suspects, and sleuth outside of normal society.
2. The world used to be a much bigger place than it is now. The resources available to the local lawman in 1913 Oklahoma were much less sophisticated than they were for a Detective Inspector in 1913 London. In 2013, the Scottsdale Police Department has the same access to technology as Scotland Yard.
3. It's infinitely more difficult for an author to isolate someone in a contemporary novel. She has to figure out some way to make that cell phone unusable and/or make the wifi connection go down.
4. All novelists worth their salt try to be authentic and not make mistakes. But when writing a contemporary novel, it's not as easy to elide over verifiable facts. If you give your Des Moines cop the wrong kind of firearm, fifty readers will call you on it. If you give your Eleventh Century Welsh bowman the wrong kind of fletching on his arrows, the one guy in the world who could correct you probably won't be reading your mystery anyway.
5. As the writer, I'm not as interested in the crime solving procedure as I am in the effect of the murder on the characters. But if I'm going to create a realistic world that my readers can enter without being constantly taken out of the story by inaccuracies, I'd better do my best to portray what really happens in 2013 when someone is murdered.
And on that note I must leave you, because tonight is my third class at the Scottsdale Citizen's Police Academy. We're learning about computer crime.