The fascinating future of crime fiction

A guest post by
For decade after decade nothing much changed. Fictional crime fighters pottered around collecting fingerprints, dusting everything in sight and using traditional gumshoe methodology to catch baddies. Then, when the human genome was finally sequenced half a century after Watson and Crick discovered it’s beautiful double helix, came DNA analysis…. and the crime fighting landscape changed forever.

DNA was thrilling enough. But it was only the beginning of a crime detection revolution that’s set to profoundly change the way the cops combat criminals. Here are just a few of the developments that will be making waves in the not-too-distant crime fiction future.

The changing face of thriller novels – Biometrics

Biometrics sat in the scientific background for ages, now they’re finally coming to the fore. It’s already perfectly possible to use retina scans as a unique identifier, since everyone’s retinal patterning is different. But what about ears? Did you know everyone’s ears are different? The day we see crime thriller detectives taking ear prints will be a very strange day indeed.

It reminds me of my friend Fran, who was told by Brighton police twenty years ago that if they’d only had a database of ears, they’d have caught the big-lugged bugger who left such a mighty ear print on the door frame of her flat before breaking in. Francesca, your day has almost come!

As Wikipedia says:

Biometric identifiers are the distinctive, measurable characteristics used to label and describe individuals. Biometric identifiers are often categorized as physiological versus behavioral characteristics. Physiological characteristics are related to the shape of the body. Examples include, but are not limited to fingerprint, face recognition, DNA, Palm print, hand geometry, iris recognition, retina and odour/scent. Behavioral characteristics are related to the pattern of behavior of a person, including but not limited to: typing rhythm, gait, and voice.

Developments in crime detection – Cybercrime

Cybercrime continues to diverge and develop. There’s a constant battle raging between scammers, spammers and investigators. Cybercriminals are constantly changing the way they organize themselves, targeting new types of victims via fresh platforms and innovative new activities. Ten years ago a best seller thriller novel with cybercrime at its heart would be a rare and strange beast indeed, mired deep in science fiction. Today it wouldn’t be such a surprise.
Game Over - Cybercrime
In 2013 the US’s RSA Anti-Fraud Command Center created a list of the top cybercrime trends to come, with the aim of staying ahead of cybercrime detection and intelligence to protect global organizations. It’s their aim to shut down an estimated 800,000 cybercrime attacks and prevent $7.5 billion in losses through fraud. There must be a best-selling thriller series in there somewhere…

New legal novels – Written in an entirely different context

All this online stuff is also set to have an effect on the legal novel, a classic sub-genre that’s loved by millions. It’s pretty hard to resist a quality courtroom drama but when you take new tech into account, the possibilities are blown wide open.

But it isn’t all brand new. Traditional methods are also enjoying a facelift, for example there’s a remarkable new product that uses fluorescence to detect fingerprints faster and at a lower cost than ever, even hidden prints. It is already being put through its paces by the French Police, Scotland Yard and the FBI, so it looks like fingerprinting in contemporary crime books is set for a sea change: out with the old, in with the new.

Fresh crime thrillers – Changed beyond belief by portable crime scene equipment

At the same time, forensic scientist Peter Massey claims recent advances in forensic science have led to a host of new devices that are easy to carry, meaning crime scene investigation is about to be revolutionised, too. Immediate, on-site analysis will reveal faster results, with the ultimate goal of “bringing the laboratory out to the crime scene.” According to Massey, who knows his stuff, “This is where the future of forensic science is going.”

As reported in Yale Daily News:

“One example is the Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, or FTIR, a technique used to identify drugs in a variety of gases, liquids and solids. For decades, this procedure could be performed only in forensic laboratories with the aid of voluminous and weighty equipment. Today, Massey said, engineers have been able to fabricate devices that collect spectral data from items found at the crime scene but are easily movable and lightweight.”

Different detective books – NSA-style machinations

As new tech develops apace, organisations like the NSA are making what many people feel are unacceptable inroads into data privacy, changing the way millions of ordinary folk – as well as arch-villains – feel about the internet. Once anonymity was easy to achieve, but things are changing fast – so fast that giants like Google and Amazon have already raised concerns about the breadth and depth of the NSA’s somewhat sinister reach. If you thought Orwell’s famous novel 1984 offered a dysfunctional view of the future, it’s relatively harmless compared to the NSA’s potential for mischief if the information they collect gets into the wrong hands or is used in an inappropriate way.

Crime thriller books – More new influences from contemporary tech

If that little lot wasn’t enough, there’s more on the horizon. Everything from ‘brain fingerprinting’, thankfully in its infancy and nowhere near sophisticated enough to draw conclusions from, let alone convict the guilty, to the Shotspotter, a sound-based system for picking up the frequency of a gunshot the moment it’s fired and sending the crime’s exact location direct to the nearest police station by satellite.

3D technologies are also set to play their part in the brave new world of crime detection, with gadgets that can more or less let investigators go back in time to the original crime scene through a 3D model  created with information from witnesses and forensics. And radical new body odour detectors are tipped to track down criminals via their unique personal niffs.

If I was a writer like Joel, I’d be champing at the bit to weave all this fab new technology into my next best selling crime novel. Life for a crime thriller writer has never been so exciting…