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Literature / The Authorities

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The Authorities is a 2015 detective novel by Scott Meyer, featuring a healthy dose of Meyer's signature humor. It is the author's first non-sci-fi novel and is stated to be the first in the eponymous series.

The novel is focused on Sinclair Rutherford, a Seattle uniformed cop, who is frequently put down by detectives, especially since he has once voiced his desire to become a detective himself. Once, when guarding the scene of a murder, he encounters a group of privately-funded detectives colloquially known as "Capp's people" (they are bankrolled by a well-known tech billionaire named Vince Capp), who use cutting-edge technology to investigate crimes. Rutherford manages to distinguish himself by figuring out that the likely murder weapon is a rare fist-shaped metal sex toy (he isn't into that kind of thing; he just happened to have seen a Mythbusters episode, where one was shown). With the help of the reluctant detectives, he manages to track down the murderer and has a fight with him in a public place. The video of the "sex toy fight" goes viral, and Rutherford is personally visited by Vince Capp, who offers him a place on the detective team, which he calls "the Authorities". The team already includes a brilliant detective, a security expert, a tech guy, a professor who studies the use of bees for forensics purposes, and a manager to run the team. After signing the contract (which Capp doesn't give him time to read), Rutherford finds out that his place on the team is to drive the van and to play the role of a Cowboy Cop, complete with a (deliberately) mismatched outfit, a cigar (an e-cigar, since he doesn't smoke), and a Hand Cannon (a modernized version of a Soviet TP-82 triple-barreled gun, given out cosmonauts). He's not happy with the role (especially since he's personally more of a By-the-Book Cop) but is told that, should he attempt to quit, Capp's lawyers would destroy him for breach of contract.The Authorities are sent to investigate the murder of a psychiatrist at his own practice with plenty of possible suspects...


The novel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Asian and Nerdy: Albert. While his ethnicity is never outright stated, upon first meeting him, Sinclair does note that he looks to be Korean.
  • Bee Afraid: Professor Sherwood has temporarily joined the team to study the viability of using bees for forensics purposes. According to him, bees are far more sensitive to specific scents than any dog's nose. When analyzing a crime scene, he waves around a scanner that looks like a TSA metal detector wand. In fact, the "scanner" is a high-tech container for bees. Each bee is trained to react to a particular scent and is placed in its own compartment (which has a tiny opening to the outside) and attached to a sensor. Whenever a bee detects its scent, it reacts, and the sensor measures how much the bee reacts, corresponding to the strength of the scent, which is then displayed on a small screen on the device. He keeps tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of bees at the team's HQ (luckily, on the roof) and a single hive in the van. He has also gotten adept at using bees to detain suspects, by first spraying them with a special substance that attracts bees and then releasing them. He has also successfully used them for "enhanced interrogation", although he was told to never do that again, as it's bad PR.
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  • Berserk Button: Don't ever disrespect or embarrass Vince Capp in public or in private... unless it's your job and you do it intentionally. So if you do end up disrespecting him, you better make sure you damn well meant to do that.
  • Black Boss Lady: Terri Wells is in charge of the team, reporting directly to Vince Capp. She's a no-nonsense manager, who is always on top of things.
  • Comm Links: A fairly realistic example. The team maintains constant communication, when in the field, even with those members of the team who remain in their HQ. This is done via a custom-made smartphone (running an enhanced version of Android) paired with earpieces, which are molded to an individual's ear. The phone bill must be ridiculous, but the team is well-funded by Capp, who spares no expense. Sloan's helmet is also tied to the network and is the only means of communicating with her. Even when Capp wants to speak with her, he is shown putting an earpiece into his ear.
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  • Conspiracy Theorist: Max frequently spouts outrageous theories about the true nature of certain historical figures or events. Disturbingly, some of them sound plausible. Sloan thinks that he's doing that as a safety measure in case he accidentally slips up and give out some information from his days at the Dutch secret service. This way, people won't know what is true and what isn't.
  • Cool Car: The van used by the team is equipped with the latest tech gear by Albert. It's also one of Vince Capp's "steam-electric hybrids", which, as Rutherford learns when he first drives the vehicle, means that the gas pedal (or is it "steam pedal"?) is extremely sensitive and the engine is very powerful. There is also one of Professor Sherwood's beehives in the back. Rutherford is also unpleasantly surprised when a warning light in the shape of a mushroom cloud appears on the dashboard. He is told that it means that the steam engine needs to be descaled, which releases a high-pressure cloud of steam out the pipe on top of the vehicle. Rutherford comments on the unfortunate choice of the warning light shape, which most people would not associate with steam.
    • One of Vince Capp's pet projects is designing a next-gen transportation vehicle for business executives. The test vehicle looks like a large UPS truck on the outside (the driver even wears the standard UPS brown uniform), but is equipped like a comfortable meeting room in the back with various screens acting as windows but can also be set to display any desired information. When Rutherford questions the idea that any executive would want to ride around in a UPS truck, Capp gives him a short history lesson on limousines, which started out less a status symbol and more a way for executives to conduct business while on the go, especially in traffic. After limos became more commonplace and became associated with weddings and bachelor(ette) parties, many execs started avoiding them as too cliché. The "UPS truck" design is meant to restore the original purpose. When Rutherford asks whether UPS might have a problem with being used as a front, Capp tells him that both UPS and FedEx are likely to fight over the chance of their logo being used to transport business execs.
  • Cool Old Guy: Max is a friendly-looking Dutchman (some people even refer to him as looking like Santa), who is always polite and easygoing, frequently playing the role of the "goop cop" during interrogations. In fact, he's a former AIVD (Dutch secret service) operative and proudly calls himself "the least deadly man in the Netherlands". When asked, he explains that any fool can subdue someone with too much force; doing so with as little force as possible requires art and skill. He displays that skills several times throughout the novel.
  • Cowboy Cop: Rutherford finds out he's been hired to play this role on the team. He isn't particularly happy about that, since his personality hardly fits the type. During his first outing as member of the team, he breaks character five minutes in by striking up a friendly conversation with a woman about interior decorating. He has to wear a "costume", consisting of ill-fitting old jeans (deliberately made to look that way), a rocker t-shirt, an old leather jacket (hiding a Hand Cannon), and a cigar (since he doesn't smoke, he's given an e-cigar that looks like the real thing and blows water vapor). His job is to be the most visible member of the team by chasing down suspects, preferably wherever there are people with cell phones and cameras. Capp's marketing team then does their best to make sure that the videos of the event go viral. The marketing team also spends most of the novel trying to come up with an appropriate nickname for Rutherford, much to his chagrin. Capp finally introduces him as "Cement Shoes" Rutherford.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The first murder victim in the novel turns out to have been bludgeoned by a metal fist-shaped sex toy. Due to the rarity of the item, it doesn't take long to track down the murderer.
    • Also, the psychiatrist turns out to have been murdered with the bust of Freud in his office.
  • Emoticon: Rutherford's sister seems to almost exclusively use these for texting, expecting her brother to know what she means. He usually does.
  • Everybody Knew Already: Lampshaded by Rutherford, who wonders why Capp is bothering with a press conference to announce them to the world, since all of Seattle pretty much already knows who they are. He is told that this isn't how things work in the news world. Until someone of importance like Vince Capp publicly announces their existence, they don't officially exist, and the reporters will treat it as a huge revelation instead of this trope (in large part because this will keep them getting invited to Capp's press conferences).
  • Fiction 500: Vince Capp is a tech billionaire, starting in The '80s, by writing a series of programs that run when an MS-DOS (and later Windows) computer boots up. This means that Capp gets paid every time someone buys a computer, although he has since made plenty of other ventures then. He appears to be a mix of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Albert is the team's gadget guy. He always thinks of himself as Q from the James Bond films, who is his idol (he even likes quoting Desmond Llewelyn whenever Rutherford breaks one of his gadgets). His most visible invention is the system he uses to make a detailed 3D scan of a crime scene. It consists of a custom-built computer and four quadcopter drones that use lasers and high-res cameras to record the room. He also supplies the team with cool smartphones and Comm Links and is responsible for Sloan being able to walk around and communicate, having designed and built her prostheses and helmet.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: When Sloan suggests Max and Rutherford use this tactic, Rutherford is amazed that it's a real thing (he assumed it only worked in cop shows). Sloan explains that it works, as long as it's not obvious, so the more accurate name would be "Polite Cop/Suspicious Cop".
  • Hand Cannon: Albert arms Rutherford with a modernized replica of TP-82, a Soviet triple-barreled gun that they used to give out to their cosmonauts (who landed in the Siberian wilderness instead of the ocean) to fight off wolves and bears. Unlike the original, the upgraded version has more than a single shot in each barrel, and the shotgun barrel is loaded with rock salt. It can also fire a tracking dart.
  • Handicapped Badass: Megan Sloan used to be a brilliant police detective, until a hostage situation goes awry, resulting in an explosion, with her as the only (and barely at that) survivor. She had to undergo dozens of surgeries (including amputations) just to survive. Vince Capp hired Albert to build Sloan the means to move around and speak, including cutting-edge prosthetes and a helmet to interpret the movements of what's left of her mouth and produce speech in Machine Monotone. The helmet also has a head-up display, controlled via a tiny joystick in Sloan's cane. Max rightly points out that, merely by getting up in the morning, Sloan is already far more of a badass than he is.
  • Honest Corporate Executive: Vince Capp is a friendly tech billionaire, who is constantly looking for good ideas to monetize. He frequently spares no expense on his people, as long as they deliver (at the end of the novel, he finally shows Rutherford his new home, a rusty trailer on a barge, to fit Rutherford's image as a Cowboy Cop. Inside, though, it's a very nice place with every amenity Rutherford can think of, all rent-free). At the same time, he doesn't tolerate disobedience and rejects any idea that doesn't come from him or his marketing team. He also orchestrates the events of Rutherford's recruitment to make sure that Rutherford signs the contract without having time to read it first and then threatens to destroy him if Rutherford even thinks of not following through. Additionally, during the press conference at the end of the novel, he spends all the time talking about his own accomplishments in picking out and financing the team rather than the team itself. The team is instructed by his assistants to stand there and say nothing.
  • The Leader: Terri Wells is the team's manager, transferred by Capp from one of his other projects. She is a typical no-nonsense middle manager with no investigative skills of her own, but she does a great job running the team. Like most manager, she hates it when a subordinate goes over her head, such as when Rutherford expresses his displeasure with his role directly to Vince Capp, her boss. She chews him out for this, pointing out that it's pointless to go straight to Capp, since Capp's solution is to always tell Terri to "fix it", and it also signals to Capp that Terri isn't good at her job. As she explains it, the main part of her job is to be the intermediary between her subordinates and her superiors, and to handle their dissatisfaction with the other group... usually, by hiding it from the other group.
  • Machine Monotone: Sloan speaks in such a voice, after barely surviving an explosion, which resulted in extensive damage to her body. One of the things she lost was the ability to speak. Thus, among other things, Albert built her a helmet that can interpret the movement of what's left of her mouth as words, which are then run through a text-to-speech program. The program is not very sophisticated, and Sloan frequently has to find ways around its inability to comprehend non-standard names and words (e.g. to say the name "Arlidge", she has to say "are ledge"), as well as always interpreting any form of laughter (including ironic chuckles) as "laughing...laughing...".
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: At the end, it's discovered that the psychiatrist was murdered by his partner for deciding to devote the last years before his retirement to helping low-income people with obscure disorders rather than the normal wealthy clientele.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Vince Capp may have retired from the tech business, but that doesn't mean he's "retired" retired. He spends most of his time on various pet projects, a good number of which end up highly successful in certain areas (such as steam-electric hybrid cars and next-gen business executive transportation that looks like a UPS truck). The Authorities are one such project, and he hopes to go public with it after their first high-profile success.
  • Non-Ironic Clown: One of the patients is a twenty-some female clown. She explains that she has been fascinated with the subject of clowns since she was little and has studied the history and culture of clowns and is even considering writing a paper. However, currently, she can only find kids' birthday party gigs.
  • Not What It Looks Like: During their investigation, the team is told by several of the late psychiatrist's patients that he was having an affair with one of the patients, a twenty-something female clown. When they question the girl, she explains that it was a moment of weakness on her part, resulting in a brief kiss before the psychiatrist pushed her away. That was it. It was another patient, a comedian, who sensed the tension between them and blew it out of proportion, even recording a five-minute comedy routine on the subject and releasing it on YouTube.
  • The Paranoiac: The main reason why Max lives in an old Victorian house is because, in his words, an old house is the best security system imaginable. After all, wires can be cut, but everyone still has to walk on the old, creaky floor, and a properly-attuned ear can detect the noise long before an assassin can strike.
  • Pixellation: The news report of Rutherford's "sex toy fight" shows the sex toy in question (a metal fist-shaped object) proudly on the screen but blurs it for sensitivity's sake. Unfortunately for them, it's obvious that the blurring only makes the object seem more suggestible (i.e. like a large metal dildo) rather than just a metal fist.
  • Police Procedural: The novel's style.
  • Private Detective: The Authorities are a privately-funded team whose job is to try out high-tech means of solving crimes on actual crime scenes.
  • Resigned to the Call: Rutherford is not happy with his role as the Cowboy Cop of the team, especially since he's not supposed to do any detective work despite his title. However, since he has already signed the contract, he is told several times that attempting to quit will result in Vince Capp unleashing his lawyers on him. However, by the end of the book, he has grown to like his new job. He tells that to Capp, who is happy to hear that... because he didn't have to sic his lawyers on him.
  • Samus Is a Girl: One member of the team is always dressed in a black outfit and wears a high-tech helmet, so the cops have nicknamed him "the Ninja". In fact, as Rutherford finds out after joining the team, "the Ninja"'s name is Megan Sloan. The outfit is a necessity, as much of her body is disfigured after an explosion.
  • So Unfunny, It's Funny: One of the late psychiatrist's patients is a comedian, who used to think that being "always on" meant that people would have to laugh at at least some of his jokes, if he constantly bombarded them with them. The doctor made him see that, for every funny joke, he also told two awful ones, and the awfulness overshadowed the funniness.
  • Stealing the Credit: When confronting the murderer near the end, Sloan tells Rutherford that she barely has to do anything to help Max and Rutherford sell the Good Cop/Bad Cop routine, while Sloan is the one who will get all the credit. Later, Capp calls a press conference, where he spends most of the time tooting his own horn, appropriating the team's accomplishments as his own. When Rutherford wonders how's it's okay for Capp to steal the credit, Sloan explains that he didn't "steal" it, he "bought" it. Since Capp is the one who created and financed the team, he has reserved the right to claim all the credit for everything they do. By the same token, Sloan reserves the right to take a little bit of the credit within the team for actions done under her guidance.
  • Token White: Until Rutherford joins the team, Max is the only white guy there, the others are a white woman, an Asian man, a black man, and a black woman.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Terri Wells (see Black Boss Lady above).
  • Two Firstnames: Thanks to Sinclair Rutherford's strange names, some people assume that his last name is "Sinclair" and others deliberately use it as his last name, especially knowing that he hates that.

Example of: