Surveillance

Having been laid up last week with a strong cold and unable to do much I fell into some crime fiction.

Some of it was the classic though rather stodgy, whodunit genre, which is fine enough for a while, especially with a head that is not clear, but the characters are ciphers, or vestiges of old and simple morality plays. This genre is so stuffed with nostalgia it exists for sentimental reasons.

Commissario Montalbano felt the same way in the opening of La prova generale as he contemplates ‘un giallo’ to take him off to sleep but balks at the irritations it will cause him.

Likewise, I went in search of more modern crime and realized something rather troubling. Contemporary crime has the stalwart features of the detective with the chipped personality, the long suffering associates, who are often blinded by the insights; in that sense it hasn’t moved beyond Holmes and Watson, but it is the insight, that mercurial quality, which made the detective gripping in spite of the other manifest flaws.

With a combination of creative intuition the detective could surmise – as Holmes would do – if a man had a limp from a wound he’d got in the Hindu Kush. This inductive reasoning made the genre work, gave it spice as the inductive rationale is qualified further through the story.

The current detective has a much easier time of it. When a murder occurs they can call on street CC-TV, mobile phone GPS, server logins, social media posts, credit card time stamps, ATM cash withdrawals and any other instances of a monitored society. The vast data sets are collated and then examined which means the detective is now a true deductive analyst but it also means that they are no longer an intuitive individual, equipped with a special ability, able to see a connections their prosaic colleagues can’t.

This is a shame as all the surveillance technology transforms the detective in a self-opinionated, egotistical, vain, but rather ordinary, data analyst. Once Chandler’s Marlowe could look a dame up and down and determine whether she was a hayseed or a swell. Now he can glance at her Facebook page and know every mundane detail.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.

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