Malcolm Mackay on keeping up with criminals
13 July 2016
By Pan Macmillan
Malcolm Mackay, author of For Those Who Know the Ending, on the difficulty of keeping up with the latest in criminal technology.
Technology now moves at such speed that only a slim window of opportunity is left for it to remain ‘current’. Just enough time for criminals to climb through that window, grab some money and run.
For the crime writer, strolling along in the criminal’s wake, cataloguing events and building stories, the window has already slammed shut. The idea, that not so long ago seemed inspiringly fresh, has already died; its decomposing corpse becoming a quirk of recent history.
The first time I saw a story about the tech people use to steal keyless cars was back in the autumn of 2014. Here was a new line of attack for car thieves, a dwindling element of organised crime that I’d written about in the past.
As motoring defences have improved it has become considerably harder to steal a vehicle safely and unseen, and the preferred method of breaking into a house to steal the car keys went against the low-risk, high-reward professionalism of my characters. It seemed that car security had locked out even the experienced criminal organisation of my books. Then technology created a new opportunity.
I started making notes about it, and put it on the backburner, ready to use when opportunity struck. The moment arrived, a few months ago, to work it into a story, a young character tasked with exploiting the tech to open a new revenue stream. Nothing is more important to them than money, so the pressure would be on.
It seemed, to me, an interesting story, but by that time, inevitably, the theft of keyless cars was no longer news. It had been widely reported, everyone who owned a keyless car knew about the threat and it was hard to picture anyone owning one and not having a wealth of extra security attached to it. Beaten by familiarity, it dropped from a sub plot to a passing mention, replaced with an app to read and duplicate the lock code of car keys.
The original idea doesn’t become entirely irrelevant, but it’s not the hot ticket you had in your hand on day one. Those apps aren’t new either, but unfortunately the time it takes to write a book is longer than technology will wait, so there’s almost nothing that’s truly fresh when the writer is done.
Perversely, as these things get better for society they get harder for writers. The window of relevance for many tech based scams is shortening now from months to weeks, either because they’re shut down or because awareness becomes so widespread that they can’t function effectively any more. Writing to be relevant, to be of the moment, is a dicey and difficult enough thing to do, and the pace of change in modern crime is making it harder still.
Love a good thriller? Sign up to The Thin Blue Spine newsletter to get the latest and best crime thriller recommendations straight to your inbox every month.
He has to clear thoughts of Joanne and thoughts of the past out of his mind. He has to think about himself, his situation. Think about the next hour . . . In that hour, everything will be decided.
It’s been almost two hours. Two hours, and Martin Sivok is still tied up, alone in a darkened warehouse; plastic strips digging into the soft flesh of his wrists.
He wants them to come back. Get this over with. But he also knows that as soon as they return, this could very well be his ending.
Because Martin has messed up. Stolen dirty money he should never have touched. Dirty money that the Jamieson organization, the most dangerous criminal outfit in Glasgow, wants back.
Someone has to die for this. And over the next few hours, he has to work out how that somebody can be anyone but him . . .
Out now in Paperback and as an Ebook.