When I think of murder mysteries, I think of Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers. I think big mansion houses or small towns that seem beautiful but harbor deep resentments. But things have changed in the 100 years since Christie published her first book, The Mysterious Affairs at Styles. Specifically, technology has changed dramatically, from the advent of radio to present day social media and pocket computers — by which I mean cellphones. It’s been fun watching Midsomer Murders to see the evolution of technology and how it is used in the 22 years of the series so far.
So how does technology change a mystery? In an interview for Murder & Mayhem, Jennifer J. Chow of the Sassy Cat series said: “you have to work around more with plot with a lot of technology.” Missed connections are a little harder given that we have cellphones. It offers new opportunities, especially with social media and the vast amount of information available on the internet. I’m surprised I haven’t seen a murder mystery surrounding blockchain and cryptocurrencies yet.
So to honor the rising role of technology, here is a list of eight murder mysteries where technology plays a part of the story or storytelling.
Killer Content by Olivia Blacke
I definitely wrote this list with Blacke’s incredibly fun book in mind. Technology plays a central role in this one — Louisiana born Odessa Dean is spending the summer housesitting for her aunt and working at a bookstore cafe to pay her expenses in wonderful but expensive Brooklyn. When a wedding proposal flash mob goes wrong, Dean realizes from the video that the woman who falls to her death in the background is her colleague. Everyone wants to believe it was just an accident, but Dean feels something is wrong. Technology is central to the story. There’s the video of the accident as well as Dean’s new responsibility to tweet for the bookstore cafe. There’s a twitter account for Odessa Dean in the real world, so that’s a nice bonus. Plus, book two in the Brooklyn Murder Mysteries series No Memes of Escape comes out on October 5, 2021.
Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
Wealthy tycoon Albert Ellingham founded Ellingham Academy as a place for gifted students. But shortly after it opened in the 1930s, his wife and daughter were kidnapped and never seen again. All they had was a creepy punny letter signed “Truly, Devious.” In the present era, Steve Bell has come to Ellingham with a mission: solve the crime. But during her first semester, one of her fellow students dies under mysterious circumstances. Can she solve the murder of her classmate and/or figure out what happened to Ellingham’s wife and daughter? Tech abounds. Stevie is constantly listening to true crime podcasts. Her classmate Hayes made his mark with zombie videos on YouTube, which definitely feels like contemporary teenagers right now. Book 4, The Box in the Woods, came out earlier this year.
Sadie by Courtney Summers
This YA novel’s mystery isn’t quite like the others, but technology is the means by which the story is told. The book alternates between Sadie, a young woman who is on a mission to find her sister’s killer, and a podcast trying to find out what happened to Sadie. It’s fascinating to see the time and information disconnect as we see Sadie’s mission of vengeance unfold as the podcast is two steps behind.
Hollywood Ending by Kellye Garrett
Los Angeles is abuzz during award season. But things get dimmed when a well-known publicist, Lyla Davis, is killed during a failed ATM robbery. Danya Anderson, actress turned PI, finds her killer quickly, but soon realizes that it’s not an easy case. Anderson has to dive into the world of blogging, texting, Hollywood stars, and the top award show. This is the second book in the Detective by Day series.
The Man Who Wouldn’t Die by A.B. Jewell
This book is a send-up of Silicon Valley by insider Matt Richtel writing under the pen name A.B. Jewell. Captain Don Donogue is dead, possibly murdered. Or so he says from beyond the grave. Was this possible due to a new invention? Social media of the dead? Or is something else going on? Detective William Fitzgerald, or Fitch, doesn’t quite fit in the Silicon Valley but gets drawn in by a woman claiming to be the Good Captain’s daughter. So is Captain Don really dead? If so, was it murder? Critics called Jewell the “Carl Hiaasen of Silicon Valley.”
Girl Gone Viral by Arvin Ahmadi
This book is more in the realm of techno-thriller than other more traditional mysteries on this list. Opal Hopper’s father disappeared when she was 10, leaving a strange note. After failing to find him, she enrolls in a prestigious boarding academy for her coding genius. But when the billionaire who worked with her dad announces a contest on WAVE, a virtual reality platform, where the big prize is meeting the billionaire, Hopper decides she wants to win. Maybe she can get answers from the man who might have killed him.
Murder by Numbers by R.S. Vaisbort
Who can resist the subtitle “In Silicon Valley, Death Has An Algorithm”? Taking place in 2001 Silicon Valley, rookie detective Kaitlin Hall decides to investigate a fatal car crash of a systems administrator that takes her into the dark underbelly of Silicon Valley. She’s joined by a hacker friend as she wrangles with tech giants, exes, and much more to get to the bottom of this mystery.
Mimi Lee Gets a Clue by Jennifer J. Chow
This delightful series features Mimi Lee who has just opened her pet grooming business, Hollywoof. She’s given a cat who she names Marshmallow, and she quickly finds out he’s super special — he talks. If that isn’t enough, she discovers that there may be a local breeder of Chihuahuas who is mistreating them. However, she has the misfortune of having an argument with him just before he is found murdered. Armed with her talking cat and new dreamy crush, Mimi Lee has to clear her name. While much of the plot focuses on dog breeding, a new 4D technology is part of the plot as Mimi Lee creates connections in Hollywood and the pet world. It may not be as central as other books on this list, but I love bringing a seemingly non-pet-related technology into the pet world. Book three of the Sassy Cat Mystery series, Mimi Lee Cracks the Code, comes out on November 30, 2021.
Want more books on technology? Here’s 6 YA books about techie teens or check out this essay on the role that technology plays in fiction.