It is hard to do—unless you’re reading books from the early 90s or before, when calls were made from phone booths on numbers looked up in an actual phone book.
That’s what @DirigoDuke has been doing. Reading DEADLINE, the first McMorrow mystery, published in 1993, he sent out this tweet: We forget just how much the world has changed since smartphones and the UbiquiNet
My thoughts exactly, as I was reviewing the text for the reissue of DEADLINE by Islandport Press, coming out this fall. Jack McMorrow had to solve crimes the old-fashioned way. He didn’t track people down online; He knocked on doors, got his foot in the crack if they opened. When he was threatened it was by someone in his face, not on Facebook. When he needed information, he went to the source, cajoling a secretary or a kid or somebody’s disillusioned spouse. When he roamed the back roads of Maine, it was without a GPS. When he sought out Roxanne, it wasn’t via text or FaceTime or iMessage.
People were much harder to find back then. And when you were alone on a dark street in the middle of the night, you were just that, no smartphone snugged reassuringly in your back pocket.
I’ve eased McMorrow into technology, not only because that reflects my own habits, but because actual conversation is more compelling than an exchange of text messages. A threat is way more lethal when it’s made to your face, or on a piece of paper stuffed in your door. Detective work done through conversation and interrogation is much richer than the equivalent Google search. It’s hard to turn a laptop into a character.
The upcoming McMorrow, ONCE BURNED (May 2015), is the first where Jack and Roxanne communicate by text. It’s the first where a crazed assailant uses the comment box on a TV website to describe just how she is going to exact revenge. It’s the first where McMorrow tracks a criminal’s history online. It’s the first where a single missed call can spell disaster.
This is the world we live in, at least for the moment. It’s McMorrow’s world, and even more so it’s Brandon Blake’s. I’m moving into it slowly and deliberately to make sure technology doesn’t mute real people with real emotions. DEADLINE is tense and taut with a sense of danger that comes from putting characters in places where there is nowhere to turn, no buttons to push.
Like when you reach for your phone to call 911—and there’s no service. You’re on your own and that can be a terrifying feeling. You’ll see.