Most of my surprise is probably a product of the fact that I met my wife before the internet became the all-encompassing behemoth that it is today, where we do everything from buy cars to watch television.
So why not meet future partners? As it does with so many other activities, the internet provides the perfect market place, bringing together millions of people to a neutral point where they can meet, greet, buy and sell. It is eminently more flexible than the 60 word advert one might place in a newspaper.
But it is, of course, open to abuse in much the same way that a lot of other internet activity is.
All of this makes the world of online dating perfect, timely and rich material for a crime novel, and Alafair Burke has capitalised on that opportunity to great effect in Dead Connection, which is comfortably the best book of an already promising career, which until to this point had been focused on a three book series featuring Oregon-based DA Samantha Kincaid.
But Burke changes coast here, swapping Portland (her former home) for New York City (the author is now Associate Professor of Law at nearby Hofstra University).
The change of scene has done wonders for her writing, which displays a new confidence in this ambitious and successful novel, which powers along at a great pace while keeping a number of diverse but ultimately diverging viewpoints under immaculate control.
When Amy Davis, a user of the First Date online dating service, is found murdered in her appartment with an e-mail on her person linking her to the site, fresh-faced NY detective Ellie Hatcher is seconded to a homicide division where she is teamed up with Detective Flann McIlroy. With a departmental nickname of McIlmulder, Ellie's new partner clearly falls into the eccentric maverick category of cop, and she quickly finds herself working on what McIlroy alone believes to be a serial murder.
But this is a multi-layered novel and there's a lot more going on besides. Within the core plot itself, Burke works through the Russian mafia, corruption in the force, identity theft and a possible securities fraud in the imminent flotation of First Date on the public markets. At the same time Ellie is dealing with a complicated family history, her own love life and the legacy of her father (a former cop himself in Wichita).
When I first read the synopsis for this novel, I wondered if the paternal legacy might be a bit of a theme given Burke's heritage, but this element doesn't play out quite as obviously as I thought it might, although there is a connection to be made for anyone wishing to do so, as well as one interesting moment. And very nicely handled that was too, so deftly in fact that I almost missed it.
All of these disparate threads are intelligently handled, and Burke shows some real insight into a number them that suggests both comprehensive reseach and an ability to think creatively around ideas. Her analysis of one the potential perils of online dating - beyond the fact that you could end up murdered - is one that hadn't occurred to me before but is nicely thought through and presented.
And then there is the characterisation. Once Burke had put McIlroy on the road to Mulder-dom it would have been easy to fall into lazy cliche and steretype, but she doesn't and he emerges as a complex and interesting character. But Ellie Hatcher is the heart of the book, and it is a heart that beats strongly and vibrantly. She is believable and likable, human and vulnerable, stubborn, awkward and ultimately principled. Here's a woman who can carry a crime series, and let's hope she gets that chance.
So, there you have it. A great, topical, complex plot. Terrific writing, a great ending and a cast of characters to carry the whole thing off.
What are you waiting for? Go get a copy.