By Alan Jacobson
What connection exists between an incarcerated bank robber in the late 1950's and a present day serial killer? You'll find out in Alan Jacobson's latest novel featuring profiler Karen Vail. This one is combines a clinical procedural investigation with a tragic story of how prison changes a man.
1958 - Three years after being found not guilty of the murder of his wife, Walton McNally and his young son are trying to find a solid life for themselves. McNally goes from job to job because even though he didn't commit the crime, because he was on trial for it, taints him in the eyes of employers. Desperate straits lead him and his accomplice son into robbing banks. After the second robbery, his son escapes, but Walton is caught and imprisoned in Leavenworth penitentiary where he learns all too quickly the realities of prison life. When a couple escape attempts fail he is sent to Alcatraz. There, he finds life even worse.
Present day - FBI profiler Karen Vail is assigned to the heinous homicide of an elderly woman in San Fransisco. Teaming up with the local investigators and a newspaper reporter, she scrambles to put together leads to the killer.
With more bodies discovered on a daily basis, more clues are gathered but Vail is unable to home in on the killer. One of the investigators is kidnapped, and the killer starts playing word games. Can Vail decipher the clues and what connection might they have to a closed prison on a desolate island in the middle of the Bay?
The serial killer angle is nothing new but the back and forth tale of McNally's prison life gives the novel an extra edge. The plot is carefully laid out, keeping the reader interested in discovering the connection between the two stories.
Karen Vail – FBI profiler, mother, at times claustrophobic. She's intelligent, emotional, with a cop's sense of humor
Walton McNally – Single father. Can't catch a break after being found not guilty. Learns quickly about prison life. You see him harden throughout the story.
Henry McNally – Ten year old son of Walton's. Discovered his mother's body. Goes with the flow travelling around with his father.
Lance Burden – SFPD Inspector. Sudoku fan.
Robert Friedburg – Lance's partner. History buff.
Clay Allman – Reporter friend of Lance's.
Except for some background information on Vail and the transformation of McNally, Jacobson doesn't delve too deeply into any characters. They're standard issue cops and criminals (in the case of Walton's prison mates).
It's a nice mixture of character and plot driven. Each character is well defined, however, with separate personalities and abilities.
Clinical. To the point. A few cynical exchanges typical for cops. Some internalizing with Vail.
I was surprised such a lengthy book turned out to be a relatively fast moving story. A by-the-book serial killer investigation is broken up with the life of McNally. Things move fairly quickly near the end. Characters pick up on clues that much faster. After just over 500 pages (at least in my ARC), the reader is ready for the climax. Still, it's an excellent read with the obligatory surprises.