It has been a tough haul reading books this year. It took me a couple of months to read one book, The World Without Us, so it was a pleasure to find a book that I could read quickly.
The book I found was Red Team Blues by Cory Doctorow. What attracted me to the book was that it was billed as a thriller about a forensic accountant. That might not seem like the most exciting subject in the world but having done bookkeeping, I can see how easily people can hide money and there’s a challenge in trying to figure out how they hide it.
I follow Cory on Mastodon (@firstname.lastname@example.org), where he posts long threads from his blog almost daily. He has worked in the technology and intellectual property space for years and is especially concerned with corporations becoming monopolies and screwing over workers. He coined the term “enshittification” to describe how online companies build platforms that at first cater to users and businesses, then when those audiences are locked in, they ruin their platforms so that their shareholders can reap all the benefits.
Cory is a prolific writer. Not only does he write long daily blog posts, he’s in the middle of writing and promoting several books. He recently published Chokepoint Capitalism with Rebecca Giblin, a book that is on my list of books to read.
When he was ready to release Red Team Blues, he ran a Kickstarter campaign in order to raise the money to create an audiobook that was free of digital rights management software. Cory has talked about how any author that publishes through Amazon cannot opt out of selling their audiobooks with DRM software. If someone purchases an audiobook through Amazon and later leaves Amazon, they can’t take the audiobook with them. (Shame on you, Amazon.)
Cory has been clear about how bad this system is for authors and readers. Through raising funds via Kickstarter, he bypasses Amazon’s audiobook system. He was hoping to raise $15,000 to have Wil Wheaton narrate his audiobook. His Kickstarter campaign was so successful that it raised over a $100,000. I was one of the backers and chose to order a traditional hardcover copy of the book.
I received my book in the mail and started reading it almost immediately. It took me about a week to finish. I probably would have finished sooner had I not been trying to keep up with Cory’s daily blog posts. Cory was keeping me from Cory. Lol.
Martin Hench is the forensic accountant hero of the story. He is about ready to retire and decides to help a friend with one last case involving cryptocurrency. The case goes sideways fast and Marty’s life is in danger. It’s not a thriller if someone’s life isn’t in danger.
The story moves at a rapid clip and I was well into the book before I realized that the methods of forensic accountancy weren’t actually discussed. I wanted to know how Marty was solving these financial crimes. By the time I came to this realization, the next time I picked up the book, I was into a chapter where Marty’s methods were discussed. I was relieved that Cory included this in the book. I think the story would have been lacking without it.
In Marty’s world, forensic accountancy overlaps with digital forensics particularly because cryptocurrency is involved. After reading the novel I had the good fortune to attend a presentation by John Carney. John is a digital forensics expert. His talk was about the amount of forensic information that can be pulled from cell phones and wearable digital objects. This information can be used to exonerate someone who has been wrongfully convicted of a crime. He said cell phones are the new DNA, only they provide even more information than DNA.
Aside from tracking phone calls and text messages, phones can provide information on location and whether the flashlight has been used. If you’re trying to determine whether someone broke into a house at night, seeing whether the flashlight was used on a phone at a specific time is a critical piece of information.
John also said that wearable devices can track when someone’s heartbeat stops, down to the second. (Can’t beat that for determining time of death in a murder case.) Electrical activity within the body can last for up to three hours beyond death and can also be tracked with wearable devices.
After John’s talk, I was able to meet him. During our conversation, I recommended he read Red Team Blues. It’s the sort of book that will tickle the fancy of anyone who geeks out on forensic tech.
Note: This is the first blog post I have written using dictation software. I dictated it into Google Docs. It was a much faster process than typing on a keyboard or phone, though I had to think through my thoughts more carefully before speaking them aloud. There was also some clean-up to do, like capitalizing names and titles, but editing is pretty easy once the text is on the page. I will definitely being doing more dictation in the future.