June Bugs: Surveillance

Wickeds, continuing our discussion of June bugs, let’s talk about surveillance and spy craft. Do your characters use technology to help with their sleuthing? Are you tempted to use ring doorbells or tiny cameras? How about in your own life? True confessions, do you have any interest in spying on people?

Edith/Maddie: The only surveillance I do is from my second floor office windows, monitoring what goes on on our quiet street, which is kind of spying on people (we get a lot of walkers). I do love to people watch and listen in on conversations, but with my restaurant-going still not quite resumed, I miss that. In Murder in a Cape Cottage, Mac installs cameras at the back of her shop and Tim’s bakery after a rash of thefts on Main Street. None of my characters has ever bugged an office or attached a tracking device to a car.

Barb: I wrote a book about digital gaslighting (Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door), which caused me to delve into the uses and potential misuses of home security systems. We do have one at our house and that was part of the inspiration for the book. Often with a couple, one will take charge of the system and really understand it and the other will be, “Whatever. As long as I can get in and out of the house.” I am that latter person. So it was creepy to me how a lack of knowledge like that could be used against someone.

Liz: Barb, that would totally be me too…and I agree it’s creepy! None of my characters have ever used any kind of digital tracking device, although it’s probably something Maddie would enjoy very much. In the Full Moon books, Violet was the victim of magickal electronic surveillance – which is a plot thread that will likely be revisited.

Sherry: In one of the Sarah Winston books she used a thermal-imaging device to see how many people were in a house when CJ had been kidnapped. And the upcoming Rum and Choke has a thread about locks and security systems. As for me? I’ve always been curious about people’s lives and loved people watching — is that spying? Nope — at least that’s what I tell myself.

Jessie: Since I write historical mysteries the technology is of an earlier era and I can ignore things like surveillance cameras for the most part. I I have to admit that I prefer it that way! I am not all that interested in alarm systems and am like Barb in preferring to be the one who isn’t the expert! That said, I did use a photographer with a hidden camera gadget in one of my Change of Fortune novels and found it rather fun. I also loved a visit to the Spy Museum in Washington D.C. with two of my sons a few years ago! I loved creeping through an air duct like a spy in a movie!

Julie: In The Plot Thickets, a doorbell camera plays a role in the plot, as does Lilly’s inability to access the camera. Delia and Roddy are there to help. My condo is installing a new buzzer system, and I’ll be able to see people and buzz them in with my phone. I love technology, but will admit that the widespread use of cameras freaks me out a bit. I watch a lot of British television shows, and I’m not sure how anyone gets away with anything these days.

Readers, how do you feel about tech in your mysteries? Is it a cop out, or do you love gadgets coming to the rescue?

24 Thoughts

  1. I think some technology is okay in cozies. It’s sort of becoming part of the norm now. I don’t mean like spy stuff but door bell cams and dash cams in your cars. You have to have proof if something happens to you or near you, it also helps the police.

  2. I enjoy spot on tech when it fits the story and scene. For example, how else would James Bond get out of those close-to-death moments if it were not for Q’s inventions?

    James Scott Bell coined the term, “Q-factor,” introducing the gadget, person, or place early in the story. The Q-factor sets up the come-from-behind moment when the heroine overcomes the villain.

  3. Julie, I agree with you about British television shows, geez there’s cameras on every street corner! I think nowadays it’s impossible to ignore all the spy technology police use, pinging on cellphones, surveillance cameras, tracing computer location. It does feel invasive and creepy but it certainly does solve crimes, right? So I don’t mind some of it in cozies as long as the characters also use their own skills in figuring things out.

  4. Even in books, the need to stay up with technology is essential. As more and more folks become knowledgeable with gadgets, the more it’s accepted and even expected in some stories. Of course those in an earlier era timeline are exempt and in some it may be someone elderly or young trying to figure them out, but as if it works in the story, I say go for it.

    Even in my photography hobby there are always new and improved gadgets coming out every year. Love the long distance lens that enable to to reach out a touch someone or something – most times without them even knowing it. Does that count as surveillance? Kind of the opposite of the tiny bug, but with the same results. 🙂
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  5. I haven’t used surveillance tech in my stories, but that is more reflective of my sleuths’ knowledge and skills than anything. In one story, my protagonist used the dictation app on her phone to surreptitiously record the murderer’s confession.
    I’m all for tech if it males sense in the story.

  6. If you are writing contemporary, tech is going to be there in some degree. It has to be. Jim and Sally have dealt with cell phones and in book six, there is video footage from a doorbell that contributes. But I think it is a cop-out to have tech THE thing that breaks open the case.

    Betty, living in 1943, does not have to worry about tech. Although I did have a challenge in the book I’m writing. I needed her to get a message and since she’s out pounding the pavement, how is that supposed to happen? I’m not sure my solution is going to fly with my critique partners, but we’ll see.

    I do not have a home security system. But I just learned I could get a discount on my homeowner’s insurance if I did, so I might have to look into it.

    1. I agree–tech solving the case for an amateur sleuth is a situation that needs to be dealt with carefully.

      Good luck figuring out how to get her a message when she’s out and about in 1943. I was watching an old MURDER SHE WROTE, and the police kept calling where Jessica might have been to figure out where she might go.

  7. Can I answer both? At times, it is a cop out. Other times, I love how it is used. I guess it depends on if the author makes it a part of the plot, or makes it a convenient way for the sleuth to suddenly get the answers.

  8. I don’t mind tech in cozies or other books, but even in books, the tech soon gets right over my head. I’m a simple girl, turn it on, turn it off. In real life, the ability of what tech can do frightens me a bit. A reasonable amount turns up in my stories, but it’s never the determining factor in solving the crime. Although, I must admit, Alexa could have some possibilities!

  9. It still amazes me how much cell phones change the possibilities, and I loved Mac’s parrot using Alexa. I’m not personally ready to use surveillance systems (though we were pretty sure the FBI tapped our phones in the ’70s). I like watching them work in fiction.

  10. I don’t mind tech being used when it is logical. But, I do hate reading over and over again about someone “always” forgetting her phone, or the husband who is forever forgetting to charge his phone. Lame excuses.

  11. I believe that in mysteries they can have a great importance. For me, I am not interested in trying to learn to be tech savy.

  12. Love tech! Have since Man from Uncle and Mission Impossible. And thank goodness for a character like Q. Gotta have tech. But …how to keep up with it???

  13. I enjoy the spy tech in books, films, etc. but have been reluctant to use the sophisticated gadgetry myself. A camera here and there, but nothing all that creepy.

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