Mari Hannah on The Death Messenger

Mari Hannah discusses the role of video technology in the crime at the centre of her new novel, The Death Messenger.

Mari Hannah discusses the role of video technology in the crime at the centre of her new novel, The Death Messenger.

My new book, The Death Messenger, is the second outing for former Special Branch Detective Sergeant Matthew Ryan and Professional Standards officer, Detective Superintendent Eloise O'Neil. In the first book of this series (The Silent Room) Ryan and O'Neil were on opposite sides of an investigation. In The Death Messenger they join forces as part of a newly formed ‘special ops' unit, hunting down an offender who sends a series of DVDs to Northumbria Police HQ with a chilling voiceover, scripted and rehearsed, describing in graphic detail what they are seeing.

Soon after, the same woman calls the incident room, giving the precise location of a crime scene. The case is baffling. And there's a catch . . . there's a scene, but no body. Someone is playing games. The detectives struggle to find and connect the victims, the majority of them high-profile. Ryan and O'Neil can't decide why they are being targeted. Geographically, they are at either ends of the country and abroad too. Nothing seems to link them. Ryan and O'Neil need help. It comes in the form of retired Detective Inspector, Grace Ellis, the best there is; and her other half, former British Security Service MI5 agent, Frank Newman, an asset with access to classified information.

‘Operation Shadow' sees the four of them responding to the most innovative and novel threats. Why send a DVD, rather than forward as a modern computer link? Traceable, even with a proxy server? They were protecting their anonymity. A savvy offender, then. This book explores the changing face of crime, how modern technology can and does alter the way cases are detected and resolved.

Ever heard of egocentric video analysis? It was a new one on me too. Video technology has moved on apace in recent years, enabling us to ID certain characteristics from biometric signatures. It's possible to extrapolate the height of a camera from the ground, for example, or even the gait of a person who might wish to hide their identity. Data from video footage can pinpoint with high accuracy the optical flow associated with such a person, each individual producing a unique pattern, much like a fingerprint.

Mobile phones, satnavs, tracking devices in modern cars, CCTV, digital clocks, voice recognition, photographic equipment – old and new – all play a part in real police investigations, but they can and do trip offenders up, no matter how clever they appear to be. They all play a part in The Death Messenger.

The Death Messenger

by Mari Hannah

When a mysterious DVD is delivered to Northumbria Police Headquarters, DS Matthew Ryan and Detective Superintendent Eloise O’Neil are among the few to view its disturbing content. With little to go on the only lead comes from the anonymous and chilling woman’s voice narrating the blood-soaked lock-up depicted on screen.

But with no victim visible, nor any indication of where the unidentifiable crime scene is located, Ryan and O’Neil get the distinct feeling someone is playing with them. What is certain is that the newly formed special unit has just taken on its first challenging case.

As further shocking videos start arriving at police stations around the country, the body count rises. But what connects all the victims? And why are they being targeted? As the investigation deepens, the team is brought to breaking point as secrets from the past threaten to derail their pursuit of a merciless killer . . .