Spectrum by Alan Jacobson




Series: Karen Vail #6

Kindle Edition, 438 pages

Published: October 7, 2014 by Open Road Media

Setting: New York City


In modern-day New York City, FBI profiler Karen Vail is reunited with her long-time mentor NYPD Captain Carmine Russo. For almost two decades, they have pursued a serial killer who targets women of Greek descent. In the home of the latest victim, Karen finally has a breakthrough.

Flashback to 1995. Karen is a rookie officer with the NYPD — she’s bright, intrepid, and eager to prove herself. Although she is years away from achieving her goal of being a police detective, Russo gives her the opportunity to get her feet wet with a murder scene. In the house of a woman who’s been killed and posed in a bizarre fashion, she becomes entangled in the case of a psychopath who is later dubbed the “Hades killer” for his proclivity for targeting Greek women.

We watch Karen’s career over the course of 19 years, as she is promoted to detective and immerses herself in the undervalued field of forensic psychology. She joins the FBI, working with real-life criminal profiler Mark Safarik, who consulted with Jacobson on the development of this novel.

In alternating chapters, we follow two Greek-American families living in Queens in the 1970s. Liviana and Basil, who are working hard to make a good life for themselves and their two children, have a close bond with Fedor, the single father of a young boy. After a flirtation at a bowling alley sparks an altercation that ends in tragedy, their lives begin to crumble. The link between their story and the pursuit of the Hades killer gradually emerges. This leads to several twists at the novel’s climax. For me, they weren’t difficult to guess, but that did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. On the contrary, I consider it fair play for a mystery writer to strew enough clues for an attentive reader to figure out the solution to the “whodunnit” before it is revealed.

I requested this novel from Netgalley on impulse. Like most book bloggers, I already had too many review books, and I am a stickler for reading a series in order. I’m pretty sure it was the line “won the praise of … Michael Connelly” that sold me. In my mind, Connelly is a mystery-writing god. If this novel is worth his time, how can I refuse? 🙂

Although Spectrum is sixth in a series, it stands on its own exceptionally well. It takes readers to the beginning of the protagonist’s career and doesn’t rely on previous plots. And since this doesn’t seem to be a highly character-driven series, not having a prior relationship with Karen, Russo, and others who populate this book doesn’t feel like a disadvantage.

One of the strongest aspects of Spectrum is the loving description of its setting. New York City is a character in its own right. Many iconic locations are described, and several of these sites are crucial to the plot. The novel also offers a glimpse of New York’s history, from 19th century immigrants landing on Ellis Island to the attack on the World Trade Center. The author’s portrayal of the tragic events of 9/11 is exceptionally vivid.

Being married to a displaced “Yankee,” I also appreciated humorous moments like this:

Vail flagged down a cab … Russo commandeered it. The … driver complained loudly, but Russo gave him a response that would’ve made any New Yorker proud: “Call your fuckin’ congressman.”

I also enjoyed running across several expressions I have only heard from my husband, whose grandma spent most of her life in the Bronx, such as, “It’s giving me agita!”

This novel’s other greatest strength is the depth and breadth of knowledge of police procedure, psychological profiling, and other aspects of law enforcement. The author clearly did copious research, and — CSI-junkies take note — this aspect of the book is quite interesting. At several points, I felt there was a bit too much exposition about police procedures and technology, and it began to feel slightly didactic.This didn’t happen often, however. For the most part, this information was seamlessly woven into the story, and I found it fascinating enough to be worth a few digressions.

These elements are tied together by Jacobson’s storytelling ability. The plot is well paced, and while this is the sort of plot-driven mystery that doesn’t focus on depth and complexity of character development, the characters are interesting, and I found myself caring about some of them.

Spectrum is likely to be popular with mystery and thriller aficionados — and New Yorkers. 🙂 If you enjoy plot-driven police procedurals and are intrigued by the psychological aspects of law enforcement, this may be a worthy addition to your collection.




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