‘Killer Move’ by Michael Marshall (Orion £7.99) is due to be published in paperback on 11th October. Michael Marshall will be speaking at the Chiswick Book Festival (www.chiswickbookfestival.org) on 15th September at 3.15pm with Sophie Hannah and Stave Sherez. He tells all to Crime Time about his new book…

There’s a pithy little mantra that’s popular amongst opponents of gun control: “Guns don’t kill people – people do”. A vast array of apoplectic counter-arguments exist, of course, but while I’m against the ready availability of handguns (except in fiction, as our novels would be significantly less enlivening in their absence), the saying does contain some truth. Guns may provide deadly force, but it’s the people holding them that bring the deadly intention.

Given who we are, the praxis of society is always a process of damage limitation. The real reason having lots of guns around is a bad idea is they can convert a momentary spasm of anger or passing cloud of anomie into someone’s needless death — bringing permanent darkness into lives that need not have been shadowed. Given that human nature appears immutable, an obvious way to try to stop people from murdering each other is to restrict the means available. Regardless of how innocent guns may be in the abstract, they enable people to do bad things.

But so can alcohol, and cars… and the Internet.

Not to the same degree, of course. You can’t be spammed to a bloody, pointless death (though that may feel possible some days), but my earliest memories of the Internet twenty years ago involve forums where a smug in-crowd took snide delight in dumping on ‘newbies’, newsgroups where vitriol was heaped on distant others for no good reason, and nascent review sites where people took far more pleasure lashing books or songs or software with one-star reviews than in trying to say what was good about the world. There was spam back then, too – I recall receiving what I believe was the first ever, from dodgy Green Card lawyers – and soon there were viruses and phishing scams. The recent spate of password thefts from high-profile social networks and incidents where Twitter trolls are vile to people they don’t even know are merely the latest iterations of behaviours which have been embedded in the web from the earliest days.

The Internet doesn’t spew dumb unpleasantness or try to steal your bank details, however – people do. Our species has always been this way. The first trains ferrying settlers out toward the brave and hopeful plains and mountains of the American West were laced with low men and fast women, merrily on their way to fleece the unwary. The sorry truth is that there are a lot of assholes in the world, and the Internet helps them be the worst they can be – just as guns help them to kill people. In my novel KILLER MOVE I imagine the way in which a man’s life could unravel – and how terribly quickly – at the hands of people with the skills to use the Internet (and real life) to undermine him. Before long, guns become involved, and people start to die.

Guns are bad things, but they’re not the problem. The Internet helps people to behave in ways they never would in ‘real’ life, but it’s not the problem either. Neither guns nor the web are the thieves, bullies or victims here. We are.

And that’s why crime and mystery novels are our true stories, because they hold up the clearest mirror to our hidden lives.

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