The Trapdoor. PHOTO: Cybercrime Magazine.

Back From 1986, ‘The Lightning’ Hacker Strikes Again

Joe is a murky loner and cyber intruder

Eli Kirtman

Northport, N.Y. – Sep. 28, 2020

Cybercrime Radio recently interviewed Hal Glatzer, author of The Trapdoor, a classic hacker novel published in 1986. Joe, the main character, has resurfaced in a newly released 2020 edition for Kindles and tablets.

Glatzer has always been fascinated with new technologies and science, but this guy is all over the charts.

Geeking in elementary school where he presented how colored TV would work, Glatzer subscribed to Scientific American before puberty.

Passion for writing and a knack for explaining technology thrust him into newspaper reporting in the ‘70s.

Computerized word processing. Communication satellites. Radio spectrum. Telecom. The reportorial beat that throttled him through the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Cybercrime Radio: Hal Glatzer, author of The Trapdoor

Newly released 2020 edition of the classic hacker novel

But what inspired Glatzer to write one of the first novels set in the underground world of cyber theft – The Trapdoor?

 His eureka moment rang in by the famous phone freak – Captain Crunch.

Captain Crunch “discovered that the whistle that was a prize in Captain Crunch cereal had the same frequency when you made the whistle blow as the tone of AT&T phones used to establish a long-distance trunk line. He was making free long-distance phone calls — they busted him!” laughs Glatzer.

“It was one of those moments when you realize you always have people that exploit new technology, and some of those exploitations skirt the edge of the law.”

So was born The Trapdoor’s protagonist, Joe — The Lightning hacker.

Joe’s a murky loner. No friends. Estranged parents. Gets his living by hacking peoples’ computers to steal a few hundred bucks for seed money. He then returns the money he stole — it’s all for the thrill.

But he gets in trouble with organized crime. Now he must hack his way out.

The Trapdoor was published in 1986. Why reissue it in 2020?

“Ohh, it was time,” says Glatzer.

“It’s been 35 years since it was published. Yeah, let’s give people a window into the early days of when the computer revolution was front-page news.”

Back when Time Magazine called the computer “The Machine of the Year.” When we envisioned the smart phone only in our wildest sci-fi dreams.

The landscape has become more vulnerable since then. Today’s hackers are capable of more than cyber theft. They’re playing dangerous games. 

Malicious email attachments. Ransomware. Extortion.

There’s no need to penetrate the computer of gullible users. Email them something. “They’ll open it up for you,” laughs Glatzer — “Here, come and get me!”

Users think, “Ooh this looks interesting.”

CLICK — they’ve just dropped a trapdoor into their own computer.

What would The Lightning be hacking in today’s world?

Glatzer’s certain Joe would be on the other side of the wall. One of the good guys. 

Joe was 31 then. He’s rounding the corner on 70 now — “He’d be retired probably!”

But maybe he got a life. Teamed up with one of the nerdy girls, romanced her, and married her. Had kids who went to Bronx High School of Science like he and Glatzer did.

How deep into tech did Glatzer geek? 

He likes to say, “I was a sports writer. Not a ball player.” 

He could tell you who was on the teams, their standings, meaningful predictions about where tech was going.

“But you couldn’t throw a baseball at me at 90 mph and expect me to hit it.”

Not Pete Rose. Not a tech genius like his hero Joe. But he’s a prolific entertainer with an impressive scorecard.

Non-fiction books. Stage plays. Novels.

Wrote his first piece of fiction in third grade. Teacher’s critique: “Great imagination. Terrible handwriting.” No wonder he embraced computerized word processing!

He’s also a hardcore musician — and quite emotional about it.

Violin. Clarinet. Banjo. Vintage guitars. Soprano.

Sang in bluegrass, gypsy jazz, and swing bands. Now a member of dance band Tin Pan Alleycats.

Wait! He’s an actor at historic Palace Theater too?

This guy’s a real character (or two).

You can learn more about him and The Trapdoor by visiting

Eli Kirtman is a freelance writer based in Cincinnati, Ohio.