‘Crimefest’ is a yearly literary festival set up to celebrate crime fiction writers both alive and departed, which may include a few more after last night’s post party booze-up. Such luminaries as Lee Child, Sophie Hannah, Andrew Taylor and Maj Sjowall graced the panels, book stands and later on, the bar. The great and the good were further boosted by a collection of ‘Oh yes, definitely heard of them” to ‘Never heard of them’ and ultimately to a couple of roving, well-oiled accountants whose presence was mysteriously tax deductible. I fell into the ‘who?’ category and, as such, pottered around on the periphery of the action gathering, rather than scattering the pearls.
Three conference rooms had been requisitioned for the panels, which comprised five crime writers, one of whom had been given the role of moderator. The topics under discussion had been appropriately selected to enable the panel to weave their own characters and storylines into the discussion. As with all these events some panelists were considerably more erudite, personable and prepared than others, which resulted in a quick room swap for me in one case. There was a twenty minute break between talks, which enabled you to down a quick Sauvignon in the bar, check to see whether you have shifted any books (I hadn’t) and blast out a tweet or two.
I selected ‘Spies: When Snooping Is Your Business’, as an area of crime fiction I knew next to nothing about. Adam Brookes, a foreign correspondent and novelist based in Washington, provided lively anecdotes about the many layers of espionage currently in operation. Apparently, ‘sneaker’ cybercrime is a big problem for Western powers. Despite spending billions on creating servers encased in air pressured, and therefore theoretically impenetrable, lead coffins (well something along those lines) they still sported a USB port . ‘Sneaker’ crime refers to the Nike clad operative that tiptoes across the room, shoves a pen drive into the machine taxed with keeping our national secrets safe, and posts it off to China in a jiffy bag. ‘Sneaker’ criminals were also proving to be those fiends who present your chosen supermarket cashier with a small, out-of-date coupon for 3p off a bar of soap, just as you’ve unloaded your month’s supply of freezer goods onto the conveyor belt. As these fiscally aware individuals, who frequently work in the MOD, eek out the coppers for their mid-morning latte, they spy a neglected, ‘top of the range’ pen/hard drive in the Costa coffee holding pen. Always looking for a freebie, they pocket it smugly and then stick it into the nearest laptop or military hard drive. But as we all know there is no such thing as a free lunch and the small, innocent looking collector of data, is doing just that and emailing it off to Beijing via its internal satellite connector. So, knowing that the human spirit is weak and easily corruptible, what are the sentinels of democracy doing about this? According to the delightful Mr Brookes, they have sent round a specialist in counter espionage armed with a roll of gaffer tape, whose task it is to cover up the USB ports with the visually deterrent material.
So, what I have learned is what I have always suspected, that the greater the complexity of the plot, the simpler the agent of its downfall. I shall bear that in mind next time I sit down and write.
Adam Brooks wrote Night Heron and his second book Spy Games is out in July.