The Monday Book: HOW TO DISAPPEAR by Frank Ahern

This book called to me from a table at my friend Randy’s bookstore (Oracle Books in Wytheville). I started reading it while waiting for someone and found it fascinating in a narrative sort of way.

Ahern intersperses stories of catches and traces gone right and wrong with how-tos about erasing your digital footprint. I’m not trying to erase my DF, but I was interested in knowledge for character development in some fiction I’ve been toying with.

The canal story is probably the funniest part of the book; I won’t spoil it for you. Let’s just say that a manatee where he didn’t belong led to a whole lot of records burning and boxes flying out windows.

Ahern actually handles the moral dilemma of the work he does well, too. He points out that he doesn’t trace people who haven’t, in his words “done something incredibly dumb or incredibly illegal.” He also tells people being stalked, particularly women with abusive partners, how to not only disappear but leave a trail that would make any missing persons investigator feel sympathy and understand what the pursuit was about.

I like Ahern’s basic style, something not quite trying channel Dashiell Hammett, yet not exactly cozy, either. The book’s practical information on how find out what information is online about you is a wee bit suck-you-in, but the $50 fee will keep most people arm chair reading rather than actively engaged in an erasure.

As Ahern points out, a lot of disappearing is common sense, but some of it is subtle, and unknown to the average citizen. These are the points where you will get tripped up and caught out: relatives who don’t know not to say anything, service providers who cheerfully read off addresses and birthdates to “confirm” them to the person posing as a customer (which tracers often do) and hobby sites online where fake profiles appear about same time as you disappear. It’s astonishing how often those have made people visible, to hear Ahern tell it.

It’s not a book you have to be interested in disappearing to enjoy. Two (invisible) thumbs up for this work.

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