True crime is sometimes dismissed as low-brow fare featuring lurid tales of serial killers and sexual deviants, but a wave of new books focused on the intersection of crime and technology shows the genre can serve as a window into our growing digital reliance.

By marrying a taut crime narrative with detailed descriptions of cutting-edge tools used by police and criminals, including the dark web, satellite communications, and genetic genealogy, true crime is especially well suited to educating the public, notes Matt Potter, author of We Are All Targets, an in-depth look at hackers and cyberwarfare due from Hachette in January. “There’s something in true crime culture that can give society at large the key to unlock the skullduggery and the terrible shenanigans that are happening in the world of Big Tech,” he says.

PW spoke with Potter and the editors of four other forthcoming books about how true crime can illustrate the risks and rewards of technology.

Communication breakthrough

As with advances in fingerprint analysis in the early 20th century, digital technology has proven a boon to law enforcement. In Satellite Boy, a March release from Counterpoint, Andrew Amelinckx draws an unexpected link between the 1965 launch of Intelsat 1, the first 24-hour commercial communications satellite, and the arrest of Canadian bank robber Georges Lemay, who was spotted on his yacht in Florida after his photograph was broadcast on TV via the new satellite.

Counterpoint executive editor Dan Smetanka, who acquired the book, says he was drawn to the split-screen quality of Amelinckx’s narrative, which juxtaposes the tale of Lemay’s daring bank robbery with the history of space-based communications. “I’ve never been underneath a Canadian bank and blown up floors to get to the money,” he explains, “but at the same time I was taken by how the book spoke to these larger issues of connectivity and the beginnings of how technology was going to influence crime and the detection of crime.”

Edward Humes’s The Forever Witness, a November release from Dutton, documents how advances in the analysis of genetic material helped solve a very different case in Washington State. Police had been investigating the 1987 murder of a Canadian couple for decades when Det. Jim Scharf sent a sample of the perpetrator’s DNA to a lab, which eventually led genetic genealogists to the killer.

The Forever Witness, which PW’s starred review called a “fascinating look at how technology has revolutionized crime solving,” explains the development and practices of forensic genetic genealogy, says Stephen Morrow, an executive editor who acquired the book for Dutton. But the book also delves into the risks of sharing one’s genetic information publicly.

“If you give your DNA to a searchable database, you can implicate some relative you’ve never met, and you don’t know you’re doing it,” Morrow says. “And who owns that database? Who owns that information about you?”

Follow the money

Technology plays an even larger role in books looking at crimes taking place in the dark corners of the web. In Andy Greenberg’s Tracers in the Dark, a November release from Doubleday dubbed “a must-have for the true crime shelf” in a starred PW review, investigators turn the tables on criminals using supposedly untraceable cryptocurrency.

The tale of how police and academic researchers probed flaws in the blockchain technology at the heart of cryptocurrencies also upends tropes of the true crime genre, which tends to focus on the criminal masterminds more than on the cops who chase them, says Yaniv Soha, the Doubleday senior editor who acquired the book.

“We have an obsession with those highly visible criminals, and the criminals in this book are kind of in the shadows through most of the story,” Soha says. “This is more The Untouchables model of Eliot Ness and his gang.”

Renee Dudley and Daniel Golden spin a similar tale in The Ransomware Hunting Team, an October release from Farrar, Straus and Giroux that PW called an “engrossing underdog story.” The good guys in the story are self-taught hackers like Michael Gillespie, who started cracking ransomware cases while working at a mall computer-repair store. Alex Star, the FSG executive editor who acquired the book, says he and the authors drew inspiration from Michael Lewis’s hit business books The Big Short and Flash Boys. “With Lewis, for me,” Star says, “there’s a model of having interesting characters who are somewhat outsiders with interesting traits and then bringing in a larger social paradigm and knowing how to explain the hard stuff, knowing when to start and when to stop.”

While some of these tech-focused true crime titles find their models in bestselling business books, others are essentially science books with a murder plot, and still others are works of investigative journalism. This wide-ranging approach to the genre, says Matt Potter, the We Are All Targets author, is good for readers and for publishing.

“What publishing needs,” he says, “is voracious omnivores like true crime writers tend to be, saying, ‘Ooh, what’s that going on down that side alley?’ ”

Michael Bourne’s debut novel, Blithedale Canyon, was published in June by Regal House.

Read more from our New True Crime 2022–2023 feature:

The Thrill of the Chase: PW talks with Barbara Rae-Venter
In 'I Know Who You Are' (Ballantine, Feb. 2023), Barbara Rae-Venter discusses her work using DNA to crack cold cases, including that of the infamous Golden State Killer.