Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cool Info For Hot Writers

OK, here’s the thing. Thriller Guy is not going to dump ice water over his own head. TG sends out plenty of checks to various Good Causes and he doesn’t need a video gimmick to encourage him. But the rest of you, feel free to dump away, just stop cluttering up TG’s Facebook page with the videos.

TG’s vacation was good, a few days at the beach, a few days having fun with Mrs. Thriller Guy. Then TG came back to a house with a flooded basement and other problems, but because TG has a cheerful heart he just shrugs off these challenges and climbs back into harness. Today’s blog focuses on some more cutting edge technological advances that savvy thriller writers can use to arm their heroes and advance their plots. Gone are the bad old days when a conscientious writer had to painfully work his way through fifty separate steps to locate a bad guy just to get the action moving. So is the new technology a boon or boondoggle for mystery/spy/thriller writers? Here, in the Guardian, Charles Cumming (an excellent spy novelist, TG says read his books) gives us his opinion, which is, essentially, that LeCarre could have never written The Spy Who Came in From the Cold with today’s available gadgetry. Hmmm, probably, but he would have written something else just as good, which he continues to do to this day. Read the piece and send TG your comments. 
Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.

The age of fingerprinting was seminal in the history of criminality and in the plotting of mystery novels. The advances in this technology, in particular biometric devices that electronically read fingerprints, has seemingly made some locks pick-proof. But have they? Here are a couple of sites that teach you and your spy/agent/detective/hero how to overcome these sophisticated locks. The following website article will teach you how to defeat these devices with the use of the decidedly low tech Gummy Bear. And if you’re unable to find a bag of these tasty Swedish candies, here’s a site that will show you how to do it with Play-do, Silly Putty,  Elmer's Reusable Adhesive Tac 'N Stik, Rose Art Modeling Clay, or Crayola Model Magic Soft, Spongy Modeling Material.
Every writer knows by now the dangers inherent in allowing one’s hero to run around carrying a powered-up cell phone, or any cell phone, even if it’s turned off. And, conversely, how that same cell phone is an incredibly valuable tool in the hands of even the lowest tech investigator. In the same Guardian article, Cumming points out that if you want to know where someone has been recently, simply snatch his or her iPhone and try the following: press "Settings", "Privacy", "Location services", "System services" then "Frequent locations." Try it on your own iPhone and see how it works.

In an article TG was reading about the hacker, Edward Snowden, Snowden suggests that to keep from allowing your or anyone else’s cell phone from broadcasting one’s location, you can simply put it in a refrigerator or even in a metal cocktail shaker. Make sure to remove the phone before making your next martini.

If you’re including a team of Navy SEALS in your next plot (and who isn’t?) you can have
them ride beneath the waves in style with some new, really cool underwater submersibles. 

And if you want your hero to find out what is being said inside a room where you haven’t implanted a listening device, scientists have figured out a way to film an object in the room -- in this case an empty potato chip bag -- and reconstruct sounds that have occurred in the room, even audible speech. Check out this amazing article and video about these experiments.

Then there’s this article whereby scientists where able to figure out something, TG is not exactly sure what, which could be key to a novel-twisting plot point. Maybe you can figure it out and explain it to Thriller Guy. 
TG is reading and enjoying the latest Tom Clancy novel, Support and Defend, written by
Mark Greaney, Clancy having been dead for some years now. This is a continuation of The Campus series. TG was always a Clancy fan, although sometimes very reluctantly. He wasn’t the greatest writer, but then who is? and who needs to be a great writer to pen a perfectly good thriller anyway. What Clancy had, was access. Every branch of the military loved the guy and would sit patiently with him for days and weeks divulging tech info on all their cool weapons systems, even the secret ones, which he would then slot into his novels. So readers were always pretty much guarenteed tidbits and factoids that would astound and amaze. Greaney continues this procedure, and here are a few items that TG is passing along from Support and Defend. TG gives high marks to this book and the series.

In one scene he has his hero, Dominic Caruso, inside a house that is protected by a motion detector: “Dom walked slowly now, his entire body moved less than three inches a second, meaning each step through the house took ten times longer than normal. Off the shelf, motion detectors were typically set to notice movement that tracked faster than three inches a second, so Dom and his teammates at The Campus had spent many silly yet laborious hours of training to defeat motion sensors by walking through the hallways like wind-up toys whose springs had sprung, giving them little energy for movement.”

And more cellphone stuff: “He then carefully opened the back of the phone with a small screwdriver and photographed the number on the SIM card. Dom knew, with the right equipment, the subscriber identity module number could be used to track the phone or trace its usage.” Thriller Guy isn’t actually sure how to go about this tracking, but he is sure there’s a site somewhere on the Internet that gives instructions on how to do so.

And one last low-tech tool solving a high-tech problem. When you shoot someone, it’s always smart to clean up your brass before making your getaway: "Behind them, Isfahan climbed out of the sedan with a long device in his hands that looked something like a metal Broom. It was a NailHawg magnetic nail sweeper, used by roofers for collecting loose roofing nails in grass. Quickly and calmly he rolled the device back and forth in the alley where his two colleagues had been standing, and he picked up eleven spent shell casings from their weapons.”

So there you go, thriller writers, say thank you.

You’re welcome.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Boring Books, Terrific Books

Several weeks ago, Thriller Guy was having a rather dispiriting week. He’d just had to read yet one more thriller that was perfectly ordinary, stuffed with every thriller trope in the genre, as if the author had gone through a checklist (kill the girlfriend, terrorist’s mother and father killed/raped by Americans, hero drinks too much, snappy comments between hero and sidekick, constant mention of women’s breasts, etc.) smashed it all together and published the result. It wasn’t that it was so bad, it was just so, well, ordinary. You’d be surprised how many books suffer from the same ordinariness. And publishers seem perfectly willing to publish them because, I’m only guessing here, many readers continue to buy them. So Thriller Guy said, enough is enough, TG needs to read something to get the bad taste of all the bad thrillers out of his head. So he picked up Donna Tartt’s, The Goldfinch, which had been highly praised by many people, critics, normal people, and TG’s wife and daughter. The first fifteen or so pages did not go well, probably because reading a “real” writer was an almost forgotten experience; it took a little work. There were so many words! But once into it, TG remembered why reading good writing is so much fun. So TG has a suggestion: put down the thriller, and pick up something with a little more heft. The Goldfinch is a good place to start, as is Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History if you haven’t read it.
            TG was shocked when 80% of the way through her novel, Tartt made a terrible miscalculation with the structure of her book. The fact that no one seems to have had the balls or whatever to stop her and tell her that she shouldn’t be doing what she did just reinforces TG’s contention that once a writer reaches certain rarefied heights he or she is no longer subject to the rules of good editing or, in Tartt’s case, good sense. Publishers and editors are afraid to upset their geniuses, and maybe at that level the same geniuses don’t have their friends or spouses read their books before they go off to the publisher. Too bad, because these folks end up looking, and more often sounding, stupid in many cases. TG will blog about this later. But first…
            …he’s going to take a couple of weeks off. Too many thrillers and too many blog entries are taking a toll on TG, so he’s going to give it a bit of a rest. He suggests that those of you who need a dose of sarcasm and ranting go to the archives and read some of the entries you may have missed. The archives can be accessed on the right.
            Also on the right, you will find The Appel Store, where you can download any number of novels and novelettes. These are by TG’s alter ego, Allen Appel. TG would be so pleased if he found that all of you, or even some of you who come here clicked over to Appel’s store and bought something to read. TG thanks those of you who have already done so, and welcomes those who will do so in the future. It goes for a good cause: buying the gin that fuels these pages.
            See you in a couple of weeks.