YOUR FIRST NOVEL WAS A COMIC LOVE
STORY. WHY DID YOU WRITE A POLICE PROCEDURAL?
I didn't want to write the same kind of book
-- I was in a much darker mood. I've always been a
consumer of police procedurals and mysteries, and I
thought it might be fun to try writing one.
WHICH CAME FIRST: RESEARCH OR WRITING?
I wrote the first draft without speaking to any cops. I started
writing about the thieves, and worked my way around to the
cops. At the same time, I was reading as much as I could about
identity theft, computer crimes, accountants and the NYPD.
HOW DID YOU APPROACH THE NYPD?
Although I was petrified to do it, I knew
I'd get a faster response if I went to Police Headquarters,
instead of mailing or faxing my request into a void. I
was actually half-way down there on two separate occasions
and decided I wasn't up to it. One Police Plaza is a very
scary place. One Police Plaza is a citadel. I finally
forced myself to go, because I couldn't finish the book without
speaking to a detective who was actually doing the kind of
investigation I was writing about.
HOW DID THE NYPD REACT?
I was absolutely astonished by the access
I was granted. The director of the Office of Public Information
saw me immediately, and referred me to a detective in the
Major Case Squad, Tom Nerney, who had been on the job for
over 35 years. Detective Nerney let me tag along with him,
and during the course of many interviews, he answered thousands
of questions and introduced me to a variety of different detectives
at Headquarters. Everyone seemed glad for the opportunity
to describe what they do.
I was also permitted to audit a few classes at the Police
Academy's Criminal Investigations Course for detectives. Through
Detective Nerney, I met a few members of the Computer Investigations
and Technology Unit (CITU), one of them Detective Mike Fabozzi,
who was extremely helpful and precise in explaining how computers
leave traces behind, very much like people.
WHAT WERE THE INTERVIEWS LIKE?
Sometimes, the information exchanged was
strictly procedural, like: what are DD5's and who gets them.
Or tactical, like: how would you elicit particular information
from a suspect's friends or neighbors. And sometimes the conversations
took a detour, like: Why do people commit crimes? Why do
some people observe laws, and not others? Why would someone
steal $100 million? Would the same guy steal $100 as easily?
If something wasn't nailed down, would he steal that?
HOW LONG DID THE RESEARCH TAKE?
I interviewed people and revised my first draft for about
WAS YOUR RESEARCH AFFECTED BY 9/11?
I conducted my last interview on September
7, 2001. If I were starting this book now, I couldn't possibly
be granted this kind of access to the NYPD. You can't just
stroll into Police Headquarters without an appointment anymore:
they have several rings of security in front of the building.
And even if they had wanted to talk to me, the detectives
I interviewed didn't have the time after September 11: they
were working 12-16 hour shifts with maybe one day off a month,
for at least 5 months. One of the detectives I interviewed
was setting up a database of body tissues in the morgue; another
was also in the morgue, looking for DNA matches.
ARE YOU A TECHIE? HOW DID YOU FIGURE OUT THE COMPUTER CRIME
I'm not a techie, but I decided what my thieving characters
would do, and then did enough research to figure out how they
would do it, and how the detectives following them would go
about hunting them down. For this, I interviewed accountants
and cops, and did research on-line in bank security, money
laundering and identity theft.
But I had some help: while I was in the midst
of the research, a busboy from Brooklyn stole millions
of dollars from 200 people on the Forbes 400 Richest People
list - people like Oprah, Steven Spielberg, Martha Stewart,
Warren Buffett - using only the details in the magazine
article and the computer in his local public library.
This was a story that got remarkably little attention, I assume
because nobody wanted to publicize how easy it is to access
private data by using public information.
The busboy -- who was a high school dropout,
by the way -- approached credit rating agencies and got private
financial details about the celebrities, which he used to
set up "clone" accounts in their banks. He then
siphoned funds from the real accounts into the clone accounts,
which he had control over. The Computer Investigations and
Technology Unit had that case. Since I knew I couldn't
make up details as artful, I allowed my characters to borrow
some of his tricks, such as the web-enabled cell phone
that "impersonated" other people's phone numbers.
This allowed him to pretend he was calling from his beach
house in Santa Monica when he was actually sitting in a restaurant
kitchen in Brooklyn.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO WRITE ABOUT SUCH AN UNATTRACTIVE
Women aren't allowed to be unattractive
in our culture. If you're a woman alive in America now,
whatever you're doing to maintain your physical plant is just
not enough. Right now, supermodels and teenagers are paralyzed
with insecurities, and America is just saturated with sex,
sexuality, sexual information and naked bodies. And it's not
just about finding a man: ignore the trends and you're committing
professional suicide, too. Our culture puts such a stigma
on women who don't get on the beauty and fashion treadmill
to make themselves attractive that I was interested in
writing about someone who didn't play the game. It's one of
the most radical things you can do as a woman.
I wondered how a woman like this might go
about her day, interact with the world, handle the bombardment
of media images. Because what are the women's magazines about,
if not SEX and HAIR? The assumption is - even after all these
years - that it's important to make yourself attractive to
men, because through men you get power. Great hair equals
power. Well, what if you don't have hair? Where do you find