Give me that old time detection

A few nights ago I watched a thriller on TV where a couple were being tracked via cell locations where their mobile phones had been used. I made a mental note to read up on the technology. Earlier, the police had triangulated phone records to link three people of possible interest. The case was finally solved when DNA from a previously unsuspected woman appeared on a murder weapon. A further note to myself to learn more about DNA matching.

Then I remembered. My detective, Inspector James Given, lives in the 1930s. No mobile phones, no computers, and almost 15 years before Crick, Watson et al published their seismic discovery of the structure of the double helix. James Given has to actually solve the crime with very little use of technology.

Now don’t get me wrong; I love all the modern methods. They’re fascinating and when used well in fiction they add to the drama. We all know they now exist so their inclusion is an accurate reflection of how policing works in the early 21st century. But I sometimes wonder if gadgetry is being used by authors to replace deduction.

I was brought up with detectives who used their superior reasoning powers, or just plain slog and determination, to catch the criminal. Where we, as the reader, can participate in the hunt and feel the thrill of being only one step behind our hero. It’s perhaps even more satisfying when we’re a step ahead and we can scream at the pages that it was Colonel Mustard, in the library with the candlestick.

What isn’t so good is following 200 pages of a convoluted plot only for some minor character to dash in from the lab with the results of a DNA test showing the murderer was the victim’s aunt who only appeared briefly on page four. The ‘rabbit out of the hat’ ending is never good, it’s far too easy for the author and disrespectful of the reader, but using technology to achieve it is just plain sloppy.

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