In The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe famously said, “I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat, and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.” Sleuths live in a different world these days, especially that special brand of twenty-first-century investigator who lets his or her fingers do the walking—across a keyboard. In the wake of Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo and a really good wireless connection, the tap-tap-tapping of a hacker pounding the keys can sometimes generate as much tension as the rat-tat-tatting of an automatic weapon in the hands of a drug lord. Today’s hacker sleuths probably need vacations as much as Marlowe did, but otherwise, it’s doubtful they drink much (except coffee and maybe Red Bull), and it’s a sure thing they don’t need coats or hats to get on with the job; they don’t even need to leave the room. No, the hackers listed below are likely to be perfectly happy with their lot, even if all they have is a latte, a laptop, and a mess of purloined passwords.
Animee and Lilly in Timothy Hallinan’s Junior Bender series
When we first meet Animee and Lilli in Herbie’s Game, they are teenagers in love with hacking and each other. Junior, the thief and part-time sleuth, needs a little computer help, and his own teen daughter puts him in touch with the diminutive duo. Getting his first look at the pair, Junior disparagingly notes that he wasn’t expecting Campfire Girls as colleagues. Lilli responds, “I could outthink you with my frontal lobe running Windows Vista.” The pair’s role grows in the next Bender book, King Maybe, as they help Junior out of a tight spot with all the finesse (and withering disdain) of the inimitable Chloe in 24.
Daniele Barbo in Jonathan Holt’s Carnivia trilogy
Holt’s Venice-set trilogy (Why stop at three?) starring Carabinieri captain Kat Tapo and American army lieutenant Holy Boland delivers a fascinating mix of history, paranoia, and real-live terror (drones on your tail). The hacking and sundry other computer wizardry is performed by recurring character Daniele Barbo, who has created a virtual Venice, Carnivia.com, which has become a repository for every sort of secret—sexual, political, religious. Barbo is a good-hearted hacker with some serious personality issues (hence his preference for all things virtual).
Nicole Jones in Karen E. Olson’s Shadowed
This is the second in a series, but it’s the one that really shows off heroine Nicole’s hacking prowess. Hiding in Quebec thanks to past indiscretions, she makes the mistake of going online once too often and is suddenly forced to reenter a world that both excites and terrifies her. Jones is a well-rounded, many-sided character—she’s a hacker, a reformed thief, a biker, a painter, daughter of a convicted financial fraudster. Her travails aren’t as harrowing as Salander’s, but anyone who enjoys the staccato rhythms emanating from a skilled hacker’s keyboard will be toe-tapping to this one.
Signorini Elettra in Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti series
Computer wizards often play supporting roles in crime novels, but just as often they manage to steal nearly every scene they’re in. So it is with the super chic Signorini Elettra, secretary to Guido Brunetti’s pompous and bungling superior, Vice Questore Patta, in Leon’s celebrated, Venice-set crime novels. But when the signorini isn’t placating the vice questore, she’s usually tapping keys for the computer-phobic Brunetti and doing it with unrivaled skill and panache. She’s far too sophisticated to sneer “Pu-leeze” (in the manner of Aimee and Lilli) whenever Brunetti asks a particularly obtuse question, but for Signorini Elettra, one raised eyebrow carries the power of a thousand Pu-leezes.