Mute Dialogues: Hope and Despair Online
Wonderful as they may be, these electronic resources are only as good as the answers they provide and only as efficient as the data they return. The essential question, therefore, is whether they provide access to public information, general opinion, specific data, and other resources that we as individuals need? Do they offer a "citizen news," one that couples the official word and the public voice? Put another way: Are messages available through this medium that are unavailable elsewhere? Increasingly, the answer is . . . yes. That is why so many people are turning away from traditional news and going online for help and data. It is also why mystery writers and moviemakers see in the online world a set of resources as compelling as the fictional subjects who use them.
These days, the final, fatal clue is no longer hidden in a twist of tobacco or a bit of shag carpet carelessly carried from the crime scene in the pants cuff of the murderer. But then, the self-confident, physically adept heroes who pursued such links between the murderer and his work--a pantheon of detectives stretching from Sherlock Holmes past Sam Spade and Philip Marlow to Robert B. Parker's Spenser-- similarly are becoming passé. In their place, the gawky and socially inept computer genius is becoming the crucial agent to crime's solution and, in the process, a centerpiece of our fiction. In murder mystery stories like Patricia D. Cornwell Cruel and Unusual, the crucial evi-