Friday, April 1, 2016

Objects May Be Closer Than They Appear

This week I’d like to welcome Criminal Minds alum Reece Hirsch back to his old stamping grounds.

Reece is the author of four thrillers that draw on his background as a privacy attorney, which gives him a unique perspective for writing the kind of cyberthrillers for which he’s known. The Insider, his first book, was a finalist for the 2011 International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel. His next three books, The Adversary, Intrusion, and the recently released Surveillance, all feature former Department of Justice cybercrimes prosecutor Chris Bruen.

Prior to law school, Reece worked as a journalist in Atlanta for several years, including a stint as an assistant editor of a business magazine. He also edited and published an arts and entertainment magazine in Atlanta. He is a member of the board of directors of the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation (  He lives in the Bay Area with his wife and a small, unruly dog. His website is

It’s great to have you back, Reece!


Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?

By Reece Hirsch

First, thank you to Paul for lending me his spot this week. It’s nice to be back at Criminal Minds, where I was a regular circa 2011-2013 or so. There’s been some turnover here since then, but it’s nice to see Meredith, Catriona, Tracy and Susan (who inherited my spot) still keeping the conversation as lively as ever.

My first reaction to this week’s question was that I don’t usually like novels that have an overt “message.” While every book needs to have a purpose and an intent, when I hear the word “message” I hear the groan of wooden floorboards as the author climbs into the pulpit to deliver a sermon. But then I thought about it a little more and I realized that my Chris Bruen cyber thrillers do have a message of sorts that runs through each of the three books. I think of it in terms of the statement that’s printed on rear view mirrors – “Objects May Be Closer Than They Appear.”

By that, I mean that my books tend to deal with a particularly modern sort of dread – the fear of living in a hyper-connected world. Sure, connectedness has its advantages. I love my smart phone. Thanks to the Map app, I get lost a lot less than I used to. But there’s also a downside to all that connectedness – the Map app stores my geolocation data and makes it available to advertisers – and maybe even the NSA.

Technology has made our world smaller, and that means that we can reach out and touch people and things around the world. But the problem is that those people and things can also reach out and touch us with unnerving ease – and their intentions are not always good. For example, the first Bruen book, The Adversary, deals with the sophisticated new generation of computer viruses, exemplified by the Stuxnet virus that was used to destroy Iranian nuclear centrifuges. That sort of targeted “smart bomb” virus would allow an individual or group of hackers to do the sort of damage to national infrastructure that was previously possible only for nations with armies.

Intrusion involves Chinese state-sponsored hackers, who have dedicated their considerable resources and skill to stealing the intellectual property of U.S. corporations, remotely and (relatively) anonymously. My latest Bruen book, Surveillance (Thomas & Mercer, March 15), considers what NSA domestic surveillance might look like in the post-Snowden era. Chris and the head of his computer forensic lab, Zoey Doucet, must find a way to escape an adversary who has access to every phone call, every email, every video feed. I think that every time we go online it’s like swimming in an ocean of data – but we never see the sharks below our feet until it’s too late.

Here’s a snippet from Intrusion in which I address this issue explicitly (and hopefully without getting too preachy):

“It was a truism that a smaller world is a good thing. In theory, it enhanced understanding among disparate cultures, allowed the First and Third Worlds to cross-pollinate. But Chris wasn’t so sure that the world hadn’t been better when everyone had lived their lives within twenty miles of their birthplace.

Today’s hyperconnected way of life was in many ways messier and more fractious than what had gone before. A century ago, in order for opposing worldviews to clash, someone had to dispatch an invading army. Now zealots anywhere in the world could launch attacks large and small against the US so long as they had the requisite technical skills. Of course, US companies had the same strike capabilities, which was what put Chris on the train to Shenzhen.”

P.S.: My book tour for Surveillance has a distinctly Criminals Minds feel to it. I’ll be doing an event with Paul D. Marks (and Tyler Dilts) at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego on April 2, and Janet Rudolph’s Literary Salon on April 14 in Berkeley with Susan Shea (and Terry Shames).


Thanks again, Reece.

And if you’re in the San Diego area, please join Reece, Tyler Dilts and me, Saturday, April 2nd, at Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego. 4pm ~ 5943 Balboa Avenue, Suite #100, San Diego, CA 92111 ~ 858-268-4747 


Susan C Shea said...

Hi Reece - your shoes here at CM are hard to fill! I'm a book behind in your series but will be sure and read #3 because I just finished Intrusion and thought it was eye-opening to say the least. Your books aren't message-y but there's a lot of information about parts of the shark-infested world that I was unaware of. I'll probably ask you a few pointed questions at Janet Rudolph's evening unless you use your cyber powers to shut me up.

Reece said...

Hi Susan -- I'm so glad I was able to bring in someone great like you to take my place at CM! Although I touch upon a lot of hot-button topics like Chinese state-sponsored hacking, NSA surveillance and Edward Snowden, I really do try to stay off the soapbox and focus on telling a good story. And I welcome those pointed questions. I use my cyber powers only for good.

Unknown said...

Am always in awe of people who can write on this technical level. I'm still trying to figure out how a gun is supposed to work. Great post!

Reece said...

Thanks, RM! If I sound technically savvy in my books, it's only because I've done a lot of research.