“The Darkness of Evil” by Alan Jacobson (Open Road Media, 2017)

Alan Jacobson has delighted us readers for a number of years now with his gripping Karen Vail books, and in the latest installment, the sinisterly titled Darkness of Evil, Vail comes up against what could be her greatest foe yet: a convicted serial killer.

Senior profiler at the Behavioral Analysis Unit, Karen Vail, is juggling lots of projects and problems at once; but that’s just her modus operandi, in addition to dealing with a new boss who she doesn’t really get along with. She’s also keeping her eye on Jasmine Marcks, who has just published a book about her life as the daughter of a serial killer, which she had no idea about until she was a teenager and was crucial in having Roscoe Lee Marcks brought to justice and put away for a very long time. Roscoe killed fourteen people and Vail took over the case in the early days of her career, helping the guy get put away.

Jasmine receives a note from her father. He knows about the book. He knows what she said about him in the book. He wants revenge. Vail lets Jasmine know the man is locked behind bars and everything will be okay. She is finally granted access to begin interviewing Roscoe to find out what he is up to, and then before she knows it, the serial killer escapes with help from a number of people on the inside.

The rules have changed; the stakes are through the roof. It’s a whole new ball game.

Bodies begin turning up, including a cop who was protecting Jasmine. The daughter decides to go it alone, keeping hidden and quiet, only getting in contact with Vail occasionally. Meanwhile, the ace profiler joins a crack team of US Marshals and other experts to chase down Roscoe and put him back in prison where he belongs.

The Darkness of Evil kicks it into high gear right from the start, as the reader immediately gets drawn into the book. Jacobson continues to make Vail a complex and complete character, as she juggles personal life problems, other cases, and the nail-biting terror of a serial killer on the loose who seems to have no limits to whose life he may take. He could be coming around the next corner with his sights on her. But Vail is a professional. She is experienced; a veteran. She knows what has to be done, and the reader is thrilled to be along for the ride.

Originally written on March 15, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Darkness of Evil from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Lost Codex” by Alan Jacobson (Open Road Media Mystery & Thriller, 2015)

Lost Scoll
starstarstarHalf Star

Karen Vail, renowned FBI profiler, is back in her next adventure, only this time she’s doing something a little different: serving as a crucial member of an unusual team designated OPSIG Team Black as they attempt to unravel the story behind two ancient biblical documents.

With the first terrorist attack on US soil in some time, Karen Vail finds herself pulled into something much bigger than she can imagine. As she puts the pieces together and learns of the significance and implications of this attack that will likely turn to more, she is pulled into an elite group sanctioned by the President of the United States. The trail will take this crack covert team from DC to New York to Paris to England and eventually to Israel.

The first sanctioned Bible is purported to have been first recorded in 930CE, and after this document is rediscovered, in 1953, half of it goes missing. Then another document around the same time is discovered near the Dead Sea. Both items have potential revolutionary effects, depending on whose hands they end up in. Naturally there are many people from various “arenas” who would love to possess them, and it ultimately all comes back to the cradle of western religion.

There is good and bad with The Lost Codex. The bad is that since Vail is part of a team, the book doesn’t feature Vail all the time as readers have enjoyed in the past. However, the good is that this crack team has to use the various skills of each member to remain incognito and get to the bottom of these series of attacks. Jacobson has already proven he knows how to write a thriller, and in The Lost Codex, he leads his characters all over the world, infiltrating, researching, following up leads, and doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. It’s a thrilling book with a complex and fascinating story that pulls the reader in.

Originally written on October 27, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Lost Codex from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You also might like . . .

No Way Out  Spectrum  Inmate 1577

“Spectrum” by Alan Jacobson (Open Road Media, 2014)


Karen Vail returns for the sixth installment, in Spectrum, and this time Alan Jacobson gives the readers a look at her past and how she went from being a NYPD rookie to one of the best FBI profiler’s. The book begins with an opening throwing the reader in the middle of a case where Vail has some big decisions to make, and then switching off in every other chapter about a Greek family beginning in the 1970s, and while it seems confusing at first, it all comes together at the end.

It’s 1995 and Vail is on her first day of the job as a rookie New York cop with a tough as nails veteran partner looking to please and do everything by the book, but also learn the way of the streets and do the hard work she needs to succeed. She is pulled into a murder case that, as the years pass, becomes a long drawn-out serial killer case. It remains unsolved for over two decades, and each time a new body is found – a woman with a slashed throat and jagged piece of glass protruding from her neck, cuts blinding her eyes, and a strange X and four letters carved into her – Vail is notified and brought in to investigate, to see if they can get any closer to finding out who the killer is.

The other part of the book focuses on a Greek family whose father is involved in a strange fight that turns bad and leads to them being ostracized from their culture. They have to leave their home and everything seems to be against them. Eventually they end up living on Ellis Island in an abandoned building, struggling to get by. The story seems out of place and not exactly clear to the reader, but halfway through the book the link becomes apparent as the reader is able to put the evidence together and understand what the author is doing.

Jacobson clearly had a lot of fun writing Spectrum and readers familiar with Karen Vail will really enjoy reading her history, not just in how she climbed the ranks of the NYPD, then joined the FBI and eventually became a profiler, but also in her personal life with her husband who became her ex-husband and how she raised a child on her own while advancing her career. Like a gripping case, Spectrum has all the pieces and evidence there, and if the reader does some good detective work, they will put it all together and know who the killer is by the end, or be pleasantly surprised. Spectrum is the best Karen Vail novel yet and whether you’re familiar with the series or this is the first one you’re reading, you’ll be hooked from cover to cover.

Originally written on October 5, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Spectrum from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

7th Victim Velocity Crush
Inmate 1577 No Way Out

“No Way Out” by Alan Jacobson (Premier Digital Publishing, 2013)

No Way Out

In the fifth Karen Vail installment, the great FBI profiler gets to take a trip across the pond and enjoy some bangers and mash, visit Big Ben and help out some bobbies . . . no, actually, it’s much more cooler than that. Vail finds herself on orders to help out New Scotland Yard with a special kind of case that soon turns into something much more complex and terrifying, dragging her from the world of profiling and tracking to outright black ops. But if there’s anyone who can handle it, it’s the awesome Karen Vail.

No Way Out opens with Vail teaching a class at a conference in Madrid, Spain and soon finds herself in hot water and on the wrong side of the policía. Before things can get too heated, Vail gets dispatched to jolly old England for the first time in her life to help out New Scotland Yard with an explosion at a private collector’s gallery. But constables are not expecting much from a “profiler,” even when Vail starts doing her detective work and putting the pieces together.

At the heart of the explosion appears to be an attack against the supposed discovery of an original folio of one William Shakespeare, penned in his own hand. What’s more startling is its possible link to a theory that Shakespeare’s works were in fact originally written by a “dark-skinned” Italian Jewish woman, one Amelia Bassano Lanier. Since England is more synonymous with Shakespeare than the Beatles, it would come as a shocking, thermonuclear blow to the Brit population as a whole.

But as Vail continues to dig deeper, everything is not as it seems, and the case is far more complex and sinister and has ties deep within the British government. Plus one of the guys involved in solving everything turns out to be an old friend of Vail’s, Desantos, who’s working undercover and will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of these terrorist attacks. Because the guy behind it all is on the world’s most wanted list, Desantos has a score to settle, both on an international and a personal level.

No Way Out is the best Karen Vail novel yet, because Alan Jacobson has outdone himself with the research. As someone with a British parent and friends in Britain and having taken a number of vacations to London and the surrounding areas, I take a perverse joy in nitpicking and critiquing novels set in Britain that aren’t always accurate. No Way Out whisked me away to London and planted me firmly there with the culture, the language, the vocabulary . . . Jacobson did a fantastic job.

As for the detail with the British police service, MI5, British military, and even a US aircraft carrier, Jacobson has again done the work and immerses the reader seamlessly into this world. There are also a number of scenes involving the unusual British aircraft the Osprey, culminating in a final action scene that may be one of the best you will read.

What makes a Karen Vail novel so enjoyable is that Jacobson makes them as real as possible. The characters try hunches and ideas and risky plans, but unlike most thrillers, they don’t all work. There are failures and the characters have to go back to the drawing board and start again. It makes for more interesting and believable conflict in the story and keeps that reader reading.

No Way Out goes beyond being a great summer read, and may be one of if not the best thriller of 2013. Fans will love it, and brand new readers will also. Jacobson explains any necessary back-story, escorting the reader along on one wild ride that the reader wishes partly to never end, but at the same time want to find out how it all ends.

Originally written on July 24, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Now Way Out from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Inmate 1577  Velocity  Crush

Bookbanter Column: “Thank You Borders” (September 16, 2011)

Borders 1Window signs for Borders Roseville store #130 at the beginning of liquidation

I started working for Borders in October of 2005; last October I had my fifth-year anniversary working for the company; by the beginning of October this year Borders Books, Music and More will no longer exist.  It is estimated that around 10,700 people will lose their jobs when Borders closes its doors for good.  The original Borders bookstore opened in 1971 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  At its height in 2003, Borders had 1,249 stores; five years later it announced its intention to sell.  Two years of doubt and uncertainty followed, mainly for the Borders employees, knowing that the end would come and it was merely a case of when.  A revolving door of CEOs and constant changes to upper management couldn’t stem or slow the tide of inevitability.

It is truly the end of an era, not just with all of us losing our jobs, but as a community venue that so many people have attended over the years.  Whether it was for books, DVDs, music, coffee, Paperchase stationary items, or somewhere to enjoy a music performance or a signing on the weekend; Borders to many was a place to go and have fun.  And now there will just be a series of big empty locales across the country.

Borders 2
Employees putting up liquidation signs

Borders prided itself on carrying a wide variety of authors, especially during the better years when it wasn’t just bestsellers, but a large number of midlist authors that readers couldn’t find at Barnes and Noble, and wouldn’t be able to ever discover at Amazon.com.  Independent bookstores do their best to carry many of these authors, but they don’t have the spread and range that Borders used to carry.  In a recent interview with bestselling author George R. R. Martin, he indicated that a number of these authors will have a lot of trouble selling their books, what with the small publishers already owed millions by Borders, as well as not having such a large retailer to carry their titles anymore.  The next few years are going to be interesting as readers, publishers, writers and booksellers look at what happens to this big hole in the book world.  Will Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble automatically fill it?  Will new independent bookstores begin to flourish across the country?  Will eBooks fill this great void?  Only the future will tell.

But Borders will not be quickly forgotten.  Many of the employees in the history of Borders – as well as current ones – have had many fond memories of working for this institution.  Many customers also have their own recollections of shopping at Borders, in fact at the beginning of the liquidation a customer came into the Folsom Borders asking if they could have a piece of the carpet once the store closed as it was there that she was proposed to; sadly she was not granted her wish as the carpet is needed for future tenants.  Shortly after the liquidation announcement, Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah created a special Twitter hashtag, #ThankUBorders, where everyone and anyone could share their fond memories and happy times with Borders; each and every day there are many new entries under this hashtag.

I could go on for paragraphs and paragraphs, reminiscing about my job and experiences at this place called Borders that I will never forget.  I know on that last day, we’re going to need a lot of tissues.  For now, I invite you to read what a variety of authors and one publisher have to stay about the end of Borders . . .

Borders 3
Letters and messages received from caring customers

“I am saddened by the demise of any book purveyor, though of course there must be a sadness hierarchy — with the defunct independents outranking the bankrupt chains.  I long ago forgave Borders for shelving Stiff under Medical Reference, because they also chose the book for their Original Voices program, and that program was a nice a leg-up for a first-time author… “ – Mary Roach is the author of the bestselling Stiff, and most recently Packing for Mars.

“Borders was a wonderful chain, with terrific stores.  It’s a huge loss to all of us.  We mourn when a single bookstore closes, and rightly so — but when 700 close, it almost defies imagination.  Countless communities will have no local bookstore at all.  I’m truly sorry to see them go.” – Robert J. Sawyer is an award winning author; his most recent book is WWW: Wonder.

“Well, my thoughts aren’t particularly complicated. It’s a shame, even though we all sort of saw it coming. Fewer book stores – whether it’s a chain or an indie going bust – is bad for readers, and bad for writers. Fewer books available means fewer books sold. And for that matter, it means a number of (often) book-loving people are out of a job.  Perhaps the Borders closings will open an opportunity for independent stores to rise up and fill the void – particularly in some of the markets where Borders was the only bookstore in the area. I’m not sure how viable or likely that is, but a girl can hope.” – Cherie Priest is the author of the bestselling Boneshaker.

“I can only talk about our local Borders, which was always wonderfully supportive of our books and events. I think the loss of any brick-and-mortar store is bad news. I do know that in later years I had several conversations with people in the book business who didn’t understand some of Borders’ business practices. Unnecessary expenditures, including over-production of author interview videos (when a lot of people are just using a hand-held flip camera, for example). I don’t know what I think really. ” – Jeff VanderMeer is the author of Booklife and Finch.

“I think it sucks.  Leaving aside the fact that I still enjoy browsing real live bookshelves and this cuts down on my options for doing so, there’s the terrible economic impact this is going to have on the entire book industry.  We were already facing an economic system dangerously denuded of “retailer ecodiversity” — and now the few remaining apex predators, no longer impeded by competition, are free to ravage anyone they see as lower on the food chain:  namely, book producers and book lovers.  It’s already happening, and now will get worse.  Still, at least there’s one hope from the liquidation:  Borders might finally be able to pay back the millions of dollars in unpaid-for books it’s owed to publishers and authors for years now.” – N. K. Jemisin is the author of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms.

“Any bookstore closing, chain or independent, is a cause for regret. We may enjoy our e-readers of all kinds, but there’s nothing quite like the feeling of walking into a bookstore and wondering what you’ll discover today, just by being among books, picking them up, sharing that space.” – Guy Gavriel Kay is the bestselling author of Tigana and Under Heaven.

“As both an author and a reader, the news of any bookstore closing is a tragedy. But when I learned about Borders closing I was particularly saddened. Borders was instrumental in making my first book, The Lost City of Z, a success. Borders employees were some of the most devoted readers, who recommended books and passed them on to customers. I did a reading at a Borders in Westchester, New York, near where I live, and was so struck by the extraordinary staff. And so when I think about those people who worked there losing their jobs, and all the readers and authors who will lose such a great place to gather and share their love of books, I’m left without words.” – David Grann is the writer for the New Yorker and the author of the bestselling Lost City of Z.

“First of all, my heart goes out to all the hardworking Borders salespeople and managers who have lost their jobs. The demise of Borders is a sad day for them, for us authors, for publishing houses, for the reading public — and indeed for our country. Fewer bookstores mean fewer books sold. It’s that simple. And that impoverishes us all.” – Douglas Preston is the bestselling co-author of Cemetery Dance and Gideon’s Sword.

“This is one chapter we hoped would never be written. But today’s business climate doesn’t take a sentimental approach. There are so many forces that conspired to effect Borders’ demise, but it boils down to the fact that the business model changed. Borders didn’t. I feel bad for all my friends and terrific booksellers who are losing their jobs, and the readers who lose their neighborhood bookstore. Borders was more than just a store…in its heyday, it was a community’s social pulse…a happening place where people gathered for book signings and musical concerts. It’ll be sorely missed.” – Alan Jacobson is the bestselling author of Crush and Inmate 1577.

“I’m crushed and shocked.  The loss of Borders will have a resounding and lasting impact on the publishing market.  Worst of all, it leaves fewer outlets for readers to easily browse, purchase, and explore new books.  And the effect will reverberate throughout the economy as well:  from the dumping of the 400 stores’ retail spaces into an already fragile marketplace to the 11,000 employees seeking new employment during these tough times.  There is not a silver lining in any of this.”– James Rollins is the bestselling author of The Doomsday Key and The Devil Colony.

“Well, it’s funny, I remember when Borders was “cool.”  —Before they became intent on opening a location next to every indie in town and running them out of business. I was so sorry to see their business model change; they really became the opposite of how they started.  Borders was “sex-positive,” and gay-friendly in their infancy; back when it was considered risky. They were out front with graphic novels and comics.  Whereas some prominent booksellers were saying: “No title with the word SEX in it will be allowed to have a signing in our store!”— Borders would welcome me.   I think I first went to one in Chicago, that was fun. I also remember very well being in their Wall Street location a few months before 9/11. They had such a jolly time inviting me to “invade” the suits and have a reading there.  I wish I could remember names better, because obviously, the good times were all about the great individuals I met, who in many cases, had been booksellers for years, at every kind of store. I hope I keep seeing them in the future!” – Susie Bright is the bestselling author of Big Sex Little Death, as well as the editor for The Best American Erotica.

“For any trade publisher the loss of Borders means that print runs will drop, in some cases by quite a lot for some categories in which Borders did well, which will then put pressure on unit costs and retail prices and profit margins. The knock-down effect would include loss of employees, fewer output, and more. And if this is the direction of chain stores, with indications that B&N will soon follow in five years, at least with attrition, as leases expire, then we could see a situation where publishers are either put out of business entirely or transitioned to ebook business models in order to save themselves. It’s a brave new world, but it’s anyone’s guess how brave and new it’s going to be.” – Sean Wallace is the editor and publisher for Prime Books.

“I think it’s a sad day when thousands of people lose their jobs and the ability of the consumer to browse through books in person becomes even more limited.” – Amber Benson is the author of Death’s Daughter and starred as Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

“The closing of Borders leaves an enormous void in the book world, not only physically but also spiritually. The professional implications to the publishing industry aside, there’s something about the experience of stepping into a book store that can’t be duplicated by browsing books on Amazon.com. If the other brick-and-mortar stores suffer the same fate as Borders, then we will have lost a fundamental piece of our culture.” – S.G. Browne is the author of Fated and Breathers.

“I’ll miss Borders.  The closest bookstore to me right now is a Borders.  It’s in a local shopping center that has a movie theatre, and nearly every time I go to the movies I go in there to shop.  But that’s just the tiny little sliver of my personal regret.  Thousands of people are losing their jobs.  Big shopping centers will have massive empty real estate that will be hard to lease, and the cities and towns won’t be getting the taxes those businesses generate.  Of course, even that is only one aspect of the loss taking place with Borders flaming out.  Doubtless it will hasten the rush toward digital books as people have a harder time finding a bookstore.  The long term picture–what publishing will look like a decade from now–is unclear.  Perhaps once the conversion to digital is complete, or nearly so, that will create jobs and opportunities for writers.  But in the short term, we’ll have to navigate carefully as the industry continues to undergo its metamorphosis.” – Christopher Golden is the author of numerous books including The Myth Hunters and The Map of Moments with Tim Lebbon.

“Borders was the only new book store near my house when I was a kid.  I spent so many hours there.  Borders was the bookstore that always had the book I wanted, that always had the people who knew what I was talking about.  When I started publishing my own books, Borders was the bookstore that happily invited me in to sign and read and be a part of the bookstore dream.  I miss my local stores so much.  I can’t believe the whole chain is going away.  It’s a loss to me as a writer, to me as a reader, and to me as a little girl who just wants to walk into a bookstore and be amazed.” – Seanan McGuire is the author of Late Eclipses and Feed under Mira Grant.

Alcatraz’s Biggest Fan: An Interview with Alan Jacobson + BookBanter Site Update

Alan Jacboson

Alan Jacobson

Alan Jacobson is the bestselling author of the Karen Vail mysteries, beginning with The 7th Victim, Crush, Velocity, and most recently, Inmate 1577. He has spent a number of years researching with the FBI, especially in the Behavioral Analysis Unit. He was previously interviewed on BookBanter with the release of Crush. In this interview, Jacobson talks about how he writes one of his thriller, the intense amount of research Inmate 1577 required, and why he feels this research is important, and where he sees Karen Vail headed in his next novel. Read the interview . . .


The BookBanter website has gone through a bit of a facelift and change, all for its improvement.  I’ve switched to a two-column method, so that way you don’t feel like you’re being bombarded with material of all different varieties.  I’ve gone for simplification,  however all the information that used to be there is still on the site, just not on the homepage, but under various other pages.

From now on the homepage will feature the latest BookBanter interview, the latest Links Roundup, the Review of the Week, a BookBanter Blog post, a listing of the four latest interviews, the latest twelve book reviews, and the latest BookBanter columns.  This will all be on the left column and will be update daily and accordingly, with the latest update appearing at the very top.

In the right column you will be able to see upcoming interviews on BookBanter, currently listed for the rest of 2011.

Finally, I’ve added a quick-links bar at the bottom of the page to help in navigating around the site.

An Interview with Alan Jacobson (October, 2011)

Alan Jacobson

Alan Jacobson is the bestselling author of the Karen Vail mysteries, beginning with The 7th Victim, Crush, Velocity, and most recently, Inmate 1577. He has spent a number of years researching with the FBI, especially in the Behavioral Analysis Unit. He was previously interviewed on BookBanter with the release of Crush. In this interview, Jacobson talks about how he writes one of his thriller, the intense amount of research Inmate 1577 required, and why he feels this research is important, and where he sees Karen Vail headed in his next novel.

Click on any of the covers to read a review of the book

Inmate 1577 Velocity Crush 7th Victim

Alex C. Telander: When writing a mystery do you start with the ending and who the killer is and work your way back, or write chronologically like the reader reads it?  Do you always have the ending worked out beforehand?

Alan Jacobson: I always start with an idea that I find intriguing—and irresistible. My sense is that if it gets my storytelling juices flowing, it’ll excite my readers, too. I write down everything that I can think of relative to the developing plot, and keep typing, without stopping, until nothing else comes to mind. Over the subsequent days and weeks, it keeps bouncing around my head, and I keep jotting down those thoughts and ideas. Day by day, the story takes shape.

The characters also come to me during this brainstorming process. The question of which comes first, the characters or the plot, is tough to answer. They feed off one another, are a part of one another. The characters who populate my stories are there for a reason relative to the story, so they can’t be switched out or deleted from the story without changing the plot I’m creating.

Likewise, the ending comes to me during the outlining process. It’s organic and flows from the story that I’m telling and the characters through whom I choose to tell it. On occasion, the ending comes to me at the same time as the initial idea. But because I outline, I always know where I’m going. I don’t start writing page one before I have completed my outline—so while the ending is a surprise for the reader, it’s never a surprise for me. Everything builds up to that moment, so it’s all orchestrated, knit from page one, leading to that final paragraph.

Alex: Will the events in Inmate 1577 keep Karen Vail in Northern California from now on?

Alan: Not at all. In Inmate 1577, there was a reorganization of the Behavioral Analysis Unit such that Vail and her partner will be assigned cases that come out of the western region’s FBI field offices. This is a setup the FBI really did use at one time. But the western region is a huge area—and even at that, it doesn’t mean that future Vail novels will only be set on the west coast (in fact, the next one will not be—more on that later).

Alex: How much research did Inmate 1577 require?

Alan: Beyond belief! My readers know I spend months (and sometimes years) researching my novels. My feeling is that the story I tell and the characters I create should be the only fictional aspects—everything else should (hopefully) be factually accurate. There are people who really do the things I write about, so I try to respect their professions and knowledge base by not “just making it up.” It also takes the reader out of a story if I incorrectly refer to something he or she knows well. So if my character gets into a Lexus convertible, and Lexus doesn’t make a convertible, those readers who know cars will stop reading and say, “Huh? He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” It ruins the read for those people, and it makes them doubt other things in the story. So I try to avoid that.

Inmate 1577 is certainly no exception—I ended up doing a tremendous amount of research for a number of reasons: a large portion of the novel is set in the 1950s and early 60s, so I had to be familiar with slang, conventions, technology and attire for that period; another substantial part is set at Leavenworth…so I had to know what the place looked and smelled like, what the layout of the penitentiary was back in the 50s, and what the prison culture was like back then and how the guards handled (and interacted with) the inmates.

Most importantly, of course, there’s the Alcatraz storyline, which took the lion’s share of my research efforts and time. I had to know what Alcatraz was like when it was operating as a penitentiary during the years 1958 to 1963. It was unlike any other prison, so I had to understand its history and its operational philosophy. And I had to know what the island was like during those years, as well as what it’s like in the present day because Inmate 1577 features The Rock in both time periods. I needed to know what life was like for the prisoners, for the correctional officers, and so on. And then I had to learn about the escape attempts—one in particular in excruciating detail—because I integrated my villain into that escape. It was the most intricate and daring (and famous) escape attempt in the world. I wanted my portrayal to be accurate because there are a lot of people who are very familiar with it—it’s legendary—and there are archival documents from FBI and Bureau of Prisons and US Marshals Service files.

Although it meant several months of extra work, it paid off because I’m extremely proud of how Inmate 1577 turned out—and of the terrific reviews it’s received. I’ve also included a fascinating discussion at the end of Inmate 1577 detailing the fact vs. fiction aspects of the novel.

Alex: Why do you think Alcatraz is such a special, infamous place to so many people throughout the world?

Alan: I think it’s a multifaceted phenomenon: its location and uniqueness play a large role; it’s an island penitentiary where the worst of the worst were banished to serve their time. It was a formidable place, fed by rumors, and shrouded in secrecy during its earlier years of operation. The Bureau of Prisons’ attempt to quash media reports and stories about Alcatraz only served to fan the flames of suspicion about what went on in the middle of San Francisco Bay where sharks reportedly roamed and where the incorrigible and infamous inmates Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly lived.

As a result, Alcatraz became larger than life. And since the cell house is still intact from those days, the legend feeds off itself because millions of people visit it each year. It’s easy to step back in time and lose yourself in its history. Alcatraz is one of the most unique (and most visited) National Parks in the country.

Alex: What made you decide to write two storylines with this book?  Did it start out as a single story?  Did you write each one individually, or switch off between the two like in the book?

Alan: It came to me as a two storyline plot. The initial concept that popped into my head one day was, “Karen Vail on Alcatraz.” When I started to brainstorm the story, I wanted to get into the head of a man whose story began and ended with a tragic injustice. The thought of writing that man’s story in the 1950s as historical fiction was very exciting to me. Ironically, in a broad sense, the concept is similar to the one I visited in my first novel, False Accusations (recently re-edited and re-released as both an eBook and an Amazon trade paperback). Inmate 1577 is clearly very different, but the idea of someone doing nothing wrong yet falling victim to a criminal justice system that does not do right by him was an extremely intriguing storyline…one that a great many readers have related to. In the case of Inmate 1577, I wanted a villain—a serial killer—who we could feel sorry for. That’s a huge challenge!

I wrote the book linearly, meaning from page one to the end. I alternated storylines just like the reader does when he/she reads it. However, there were a couple of occasions when I continued writing the story if I was in a rhythm in that time period and wanted to finish that particular scene. But most of it was written just like the reader reads it. Doing it that way gives me a better sense of the pacing and keeps me in touch with what the reader is feeling.

Alex: You use a number of short chapters in Inmate 1577, which is a growing style in contemporary thrillers, is there a particular reason for this?

Alan: I honestly don’t pay attention to chapter length when writing because that reduces the process to a very mechanical, rather than organic flow. James Patterson has used short chapters to great effect; he does it by design—he’ll specify in his chapter outline how many pages each chapter will be. And it’s a style that works for him. His goal is to make the reader feel as if she’s turning the pages quickly (a “page turner”)—because, well, she is. But innate pacing—driven by the writing, the action, plot, and characters, is much more important to me: is the story flowing well? Does it move from one scene to another? Is the reader engaged in what’s going on?

If I do all that well, it doesn’t matter how long the chapters are. That said, if there’s a problem with pacing, chapter length might figure into the solution. But I’ve been writing novels for 19 years, so I’m at the point where I know when something’s not working or not flowing, or if the pacing or story gets bogged down. And if I miss something, my wife is a skilled reader with a sharp editing eye and she’ll point it out. Then there’s my editor, who’s terrific, and my copyeditor—all of whom are on the alert for problems.

That said, I do pay attention to the way things are laid out on the page; if I want a scene to move quickly—if it’s an action scene, or if I want to turn up the tension—one way is to use shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs, and so on…because, as I noted above, your eyes move faster across the page. However, it’s something that comes organically while writing. Very rarely is it a conscious manipulation of the layout.

Alex: With the many locations in San Francisco featured in this book, have you thought about organizing tours?

Alan: I’ve had a lot of requests from friends and family to take them to Alcatraz! By and large, writing is a full time (and a half) job, so I wouldn’t have time to do that. But it sure would be fun to take readers to all the locations that play significant roles in Inmate 1577.

Alex: You also have a new standalone book coming out soon, what can you tell your readers about it?

Alan: Hard Target starts off with a bang—literally—with a spectacular assassination attempt on the president-elect on Election Night. Our two protagonists go in search of those responsible and the information they uncover leads to some very upsetting discoveries—including conspirators whose plan is so far-reaching and well-orchestrated that it could result in the overthrow of the U.S. government.

Lee Child called Hard Target a “great thriller” that’s “fast, hard, and intelligent.” Vince Flynn called it a “smart, complex thriller” that “scores a direct hit on my radar.”

But—I would not label it a standalone. It’s a hybrid standalone. I guess I’ve invented a new category! While it’s not part of the Karen Vail series, a number of characters who’ve figured prominently in my prior novels drive the action, alongside some new ones. Hector DeSantos, who debuted in my second novel, The Hunted (also recently re-released as both an eBook and an Amazon trade paperback), and who partnered with Vail in Velocity, returns. He teams up with FBI Agent Aaron “Uzi” Uziel, who’s in charge of the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Washington, DC. FBI Director Douglas Knox also returns to play a significant role, as does FBI CSI Tim Meadows (introduced in The 7th Victim). And then there’s Dr. Leonard Rudnick, Vail’s psychologist, who appeared in Velocity. Oh—and Karen Vail is in a chunk of the novel, too! So while it’s not considered part of the Vail series, you can see why I call it a hybrid standalone.

Hard Target should launch by February 2012. Before then, Karen Vail returns in a short story titled Fatal Twist. I believe my publisher is looking at having it live by November as a digital release. I’ll be releasing more info about it on my website, www.alanjacobson.com, as soon as it becomes available. While there, grab the free 23-page personal safety booklet that I coauthored with FBI Profiler Mark Safarik (who’s now starring in his own hit TV series, Killer Instinct). The free booklet contains vitally important information on staying out of the crosshairs of violent criminals.

Alex: Why did you change publishers?

Alan: It’s a long story—but the short answer is that the Borders bankruptcy was announced on the day that my publisher had to commit to Inmate 1577. Borders owed them nearly $9 million–money that was never going to be repaid—so they refused to continue shipping books to Borders, even though they were one of their two main sales channels. Barnes and Noble was (is) going through a financial upheaval themselves—closing stores, severely cutting inventory and the number of titles they stock. My publisher thus wanted to publish Inmate 1577 as an eBook original—that is, no bound edition because they didn’t have enough brick-and-mortar stores to sell them through.

At the same time, with the digital revolution growing exponentially, my agent wanted me to go with a publisher who had a strong digital presence and the know-how to leverage that platform in the most efficient way possible. Inmate 1577 was thus published through Premiere Digital Publishing, who had recently re-issued my out-of-print novels, The Hunted and False Accusations. Norwood Press, which specializes in collector’s editions and signed first edition hardcovers, released Inmate 1577 in hardcover. It’s a beautiful book—they did a terrific job. There’s also a trade paperback (same size as a hardback, but with a soft cover) that will be available on 10/1/11 through Amazon.com.

Alex: Any hints at where Karen Vail will be headed next?

Alan: Yes! If my plans come to fruition, Vail is headed to England, where she’ll partner again with Hector DeSantos.

Upcoming Interviews on BookBanter

Here’s a listing of upcoming interviews on BookBanter for the next couple of months leading up to December.

[Updated 09/28: I realized there was a noticeable lacking of female authors being interviewed, and since I had one more spot open for the year, I set-up an interview with Juliet Eilperin, who wrote Demon Fish, which is schedule to go up November 1st]


Coming October 1st

Alan Jacobson

Alan Jacobson

Inmate 1577

Author of Inmate 1577


Coming October 15th

Rober Charles Wilson

Robert Charles Wilson


Author of Spin and Axis


Coming November 1st

John Barnes

Elizabeth Eileperin

Demon Fish

Author of Demon Fish


Coming November 1st

John Barnes

John Barnes

Directive 51

Author of Directive 51 and Daybreak Zero


Coming November 15th

Ben Loory

Ben Loory

Stories for Nighttime

Author of Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day


Coming December 1st

Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline

Ready Player One

Author of Ready Player One

“Inmate 1577” by Alan Jacobson (Norwood Press, 2011)

Inmate 1577

When it seemed like the great thrillers involving the ace FBI Profiler, Karen Vail, couldn’t get any better after the bestselling Crush, Alan Jacobson brings Vail back to Northern California, this time in sunny and chilly and foggy San Francisco, with a new serial killer on the loose, and the growing and undeniable ties to one prison located on a certain island out in the bay.

Jacobson tells two stories here, jumping back and forth in time and from place to place.  First there is the story of Karen Vail, the FBI’s best profiler, who has been called back to California, to San Francisco to investigate a growing series of horrible killings, specifically elderly women who have been raped and brutally murdered, and their husbands, killed and left dangling and hanging from San Francisco landmarks.  SFPD Inspector Lance Burden is working with Vail, along with former colleague, Detective Roxxann Dixon; and with a crack team, the clues lead them throughout the beautiful city, as they investigate the bodies and put the pieces together.

Then there is the story of Walton MacNally, back in 1955, who has a series of really unfortunate events that lead him to start stealing and breaking the law, all to help and support his son.  But then he gets caught and spends his time in Leavenworth Penitentiary, and after a failed jailbreak, ends up on the rock of Alcatraz, where his life continues as a prisoner of one of the most infamous prisons in history.

The reader knows these stories are somehow linked, but Jacobson does a fantastic job of maintaining the suspense for literally hundreds of pages, and Inmate 1577 is a great 500-pager.  The author makes working a serial killer case more real than ever, as the agents involved continue to be stumped at finding the killer, and feeling simply lost, until they get another clue they must chase down.  While Jacobson does take a little while to actually get to Alcatraz in the book, as well as being a little too liberal with the acronyms, these are but minor distractions in this great example of the page-turning thriller.  Jacobson even spent some time on Alcatraz writing the book, as well as many days and interviews researching the book.

Inmate 1577 is simply a great book that any mystery fan will gobble up like their favorite dish.  Whether this is your first Karen Vail novel or you’ve been working your way through them; you will not be disappointed with this lengthy book that will keep you reading and both wanting to reach the end and at the same time not be done with the book.

To purchase a copy of Inmate 1577, go to the Norwood Press site.

Originally written on August 31, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

You might also like . . .

Velocity  Crush  7th Victim

Coming Soon to a BookBanter Near You . . .

First off, let’s get the tough news out the way: Borders Roseville #130 is no more.  We closed the doors yesterday for the last time and I am no longer an employee for this company that’s only going to be around for another couple of weeks.  You can read all about my thoughts (as well as various author’s) in my most recent BookBanter Column, “Thank You Borders.”

And that’s that, until I find a new job, I have lots of time on my hands, which means lots of reading and writing, and book reviewing, and more interviews and updates on BookBanter.

Tomorrow I’ll be putting up the next interview, with Cameron Stracher, author of the young adult dystopian novel, The Water Wars.  And in the pipeline are interviews with Alan Jacobson, author of Inmate 1577; John Barnes, author of Directive 51; Ben Loory, author of Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day; and Robert Charles Wilson, author of Vortex.  And that will all be coming up over the next couple of months.

In the meantime, the latest BookBanter Boon giveaway ends tonight at 11:59PM PST, so if you’re interested in entering to win a couple of free books, be sure to leave a comment on that post linked above.