The Brooklyn North Murder
Book written by Erica Obey
Book review by Daniel Dotson
I don't recommend this fiction book for the Cybersecurity Canon Hall of Fame. The novel does not get the cybersecurity details right.
Mary Watson, a librarian who has also developed an AI named Doyle, has encountered a murder in her small college town. The victim happens to be a philanthropist and investor, who she, among others, have benefited from. This man disappears seemingly in the middle of a competition while swimming. No sign of his body is immediately found.
Throughout the book, Mary has regular conversations with Doyle. Doyle seems to have a personality, rather than just giving more robotic responses to Mary. In many ways, Doyle might be considered a bit of an arrogant jerk at times. He has personality, in addition to being able to poke around and find out things. And sometimes where he pokes around can cause a bit of a problem. Since Mary is his creator, she is the one that would face any consequences for Doyle’s actions.
The novel has multiple examples of cybersecurity, including Doyle’s tendency to be able to infiltrate various networks, a significant breach at her university, the local historical society, and the philanthropic organization attached to the victim. The head of campus security is asking for her help in investigating the murder (why campus security would be as involved seemed a bit weird). What’s even weirder is who has much more to his background than it would appear. Eventually, federal and local authorities get involved.
Doyle tries to give Mary help with solving the murders. But sometimes his help ends up causing more problems for Mary. Faked deaths, mysteries surrounding another murder victim, and allusions to stores and people real and imagined are included in the hunt for the killer, who of course is one of the people close to Mary Watson (another typical mystery common plot point).
While cybersecurity is a running theme in the book, it’s not central to the story. The book is a fairly typical murder mystery, except with the protagonist’s sidekick being an AI. Perhaps a suspension of disbelief is needed since it’s fiction. However, two major issues with the AI and its actions seem a bit too unrealistic.
First, several people know of Doyle. Given Doyle’s advanced abilities, it seems extremely unlikely that Mary Watson would not be under constant pressure from the military, government or intelligence officials, and commercial interests to find ways of using Doyle for their purposes. Mary seems to be living the life of a small-town college librarian (with murders, of course – it is a mystery novel).
The second part is Doyle’s tendency to poke around. In other words, how is it that Mary hasn’t already been approached for cybersecurity breaches by the AI? It seems unlikely that Doyle’s abilities haven’t come under scrutiny for being a major security breach. While it may be fathomable that an AI as advanced as Doyle can potentially go about things undetected, it also seems likely that Doyle’s existence being known by enough people would cast more suspicion on him by association. People talk. Surely Doyle’s existence can’t be this much of a secret – especially as she’s having conversations with him on a regular basis (and not just in private).
Ultimately, while the book is a decent (but not outstanding) mystery novel, the technology elements, including cybersecurity, are not central nor realistic enough to work for a Cybersecurity Canon recommendation. Adding to this, some of the elements of the technology seem a bit too unlikely to be realistic in the tech industry, but especially in how our society functions.
We modeled the Cybersecurity Canon after the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, except it’s a canon for cybersecurity books. We have more than 25 books on the initial candidate list, but we are soliciting help from the cybersecurity community to increase the number. Please write a review and nominate your favorite.
The Cybersecurity Canon is a real thing for our community. We have designed it so that you can directly participate in the process. Please do so!