Tip of my tongue, a book I think I read in the early 2000s in English, in the United States. The killer comes up as a suspect early in the investigation, but is discounted after the investigators learn that his body was found, and identified via dental records, in the woods. I don't recall if it was thought to be accident, suicide, or murder, but the body is decayed and scavenged enough that the dental records were necessary. Ultimately, it turns out that the killer faked that death scene, I think leaving one of his victims in the woods and changing the records at the dentist so that the victim's images were left in place of his own. Unfortunately, I've forgotten most of the details of his actual kills, although I do remember the killer as male, relatively young (20s or 30s), and I think as a former computer programmer.

The bit that's really sticking with me is that, near the end of the book, the protagonists stumble on a massive bit of government surveillance (which was considered to be something that, if revealed, would cause riots, but kind of sounds prosaic now in the current environment) where they're able to log onto a computer system and track a database of every shopping transaction, toll booth, etc, indexed by an identity. I specifically remember that the menus were an old-style text interface with the protagonists navigating them by typing in the corresponding number for what they were searching, and that one of the bits of data they come up with is where the killer paid for a toll, and his face was captured by one of the cameras.

1 Answer 1


I found the answer by combing through my physical books, and I believe the book was Jeffrey Deaver's The Blue Nowhere.

When a sadistic hacker, code-named Phate, sets his sights on Silicon Valley, his victims never know what hit them. He infiltrates their computers, invades their lives, and lures them to their deaths. To Phate, each murder is like a big, challenging computer hack: every time he succeeds, he must challenge himself anew— by taking his methodology to a higher level, and aiming at bigger targets.

Desperate, the head of The California State Police Computer Crimes Division frees Wyatt Gillette, imprisoned for hacking, to aid the investigation — against the loud protests of the rest of the division. With an obsession emblematic of hackers, Gillette fervently attempts to trace Phate’s insidious computer virus back to its source. Then Phate delivers a huge blow, murdering one of the division’s own — a “wizard” who had pioneered the Internet — and the search takes on a zealous intensity.

Gillette and Detective Frank Bishop — an old-school homicide cop who’s accustomed to forensic sleuthing — make an uneasy team. But with a merciless and brilliant killer like Phate in their cross hairs, and his twisted game reaching a fever pitch, they must utilize every ounce of their disparate talents to stop him.

Partway through the story, the protagonists learn that Phate worked with someone named "Shawn" who helped co-develop his "Trapdoor" program that lets him tap into the systems of his victims, and one of the likely suspects is found dead in the woods, having apparently shot themselves. It's later revealed that the suicide was faked by Phate to throw them off of the trail, and that "Shawn" is actually a computer with the name coming from the initials of places the killer had worked.

I have not found the surveillance system I remembered, although there are a few parts where official government systems are depicted with those characteristic menus, and there's an incident early in the book where the killer tracks someone via tolls. Lastly, there is a minor scandal of the Department of Defense having spent some 35 million dollars on "Standard 12", a supposedly unbreakable encryption scheme, which Gillette shows is actually fairly easily broken (and which results in him being thrown back into prison after he captures the killer for breaking the encryption in front of an agent in the efforts to track Phate).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.