Jacobson’s so-so seventh Karen Vail novel (after 2014’s Spectrum) opens in a Washington, D.C., TV studio, where a talk show host is interviewing Jasmine Marcks about the book she’s written about her father, Roscoe Lee Marcks (aka the Blood Lines serial killer). Through the years, Jasmine tried to reconcile the fact that the loving father she knew killed 14 people before being sent to prison. Although the police at first didn’t believe her, Jasmine is credited with turning in her father after discovering bloody duct tape in his car and other evidence. Jasmine’s fears that her father may try to harm her may become a reality when he escapes from prison. As Roscoe continues his killing spree, Karen’s hunt for the fugitive is complicated by several arsons that may be linked to him. Law enforcement procedures and profiling details elevate the story, as does the matching of the insightful Karen against the intelligent Roscoe. But the cumbersome plot is marred by too many tangents, banal dialogue, and a preposterous twist near the end. Agent: Joel Gotler, IPG Literary Agency. (Mar.)
Jasmine Marcks was a teenager when she discovered her father was a killer. First, there was the strip of bloody duct tape; then, the bloodstain on his shirt; and finally, the long nights away from home that always coincided with gruesome deaths. Roscoe Lee Marcks killed fourteen people before he was finally put behind bars. But as renowned FBI agent Karen Vail soon learns, Marcks’s reign of terror isn’t over yet.
After writing a book about growing up as the child of a serial killer, Jasmine receives a letter—a single sheet of paper mailed from the maximum-security prison Marcks now calls home. The page hides a threatening message from a father who wants vengeance against the daughter who turned him in to the police. So when Marcks breaks out of prison, Agent Vail calls on a legendary retired profiler to help her find the escaped convict—and keep him from making Jasmine his fifteenth victim.
Alan Jacobson created Karen Vail—one of the most compelling heroes in suspense fiction, earning acclaim from James Patterson, Nelson DeMille, and Michael Connelly—after seven years of working with two senior profilers at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s legendary Behavioral Analysis Unit. Over the years, Vail has tangled with the worst serial killers America has to offer. But none compares to Roscoe Lee Marcks.
Intriguing … A right-good thriller … [with] top-level action.” —Booklist “Smoothly written and intricately plotted. Like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Jacobson lays bare the malevolence that lurks in the human heart. An impressive read.” —John Sandford, #1 New York Times–bestselling author “A slick, fast read full of very clever twists. Karen Vail is one tough heroine!” —Phillip Margolin, New York Times–bestselling author of Violent Crimes Praise for Alan Jacobson “Jacobson should be mandatory reading for the James Patterson crowd.” —Library Journal on Inmate 1577 “A powerful thriller, brilliantly conceived and written.” —Clive Cussler, New York Times–bestselling author, on Inmate 1577 “Karen Vail is one tough character.” —Kathy Reichs, New York Times–bestselling author of 206 Bones
Read an Excerpt
The Darkness of Evil
A Karen Vail Novel
By Alan Jacobson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2017 Alan Jacobson
All rights reserved.
3901 Nebraska Avenue NW Washington, DC
Did he ever sodomize you?"
The bright lights in the television studio bore down on Jasmine Marcks and caught a glistening tear as it coursed down her cheek.
FBI profiler Karen Vail clenched her jaw. How could this woman be so callous?
"No," Jasmine said. "He saved that for his victims, the ones he killed."
Talk show host Stephanie Sabotini waved her hand in the air, as if dismissing Jasmine's answer. "You never really say in your book that you feel guilty. Don't you feel remorse? An ounce of guilt?"
Jesus Christ. What's she supposed to feel guilty about?
Jasmine wiped at her moist cheek with a couple of fingers and tilted her head. "What?"
Vail tried to remember the cute floor director's name she was introduced to shortly after arriving. Theo. Vail stepped quickly to her right and elbowed him.
Theo was focused on his cameraman and startled a bit as he turned to Vail.
"That's enough. Tell Ms. Sabotini she's gone too far."
"Nothing I can do, Agent Vail. Miss Marcks agreed to the interview."
Vail wondered if Jasmine's publicist, munching on catered food in the green room, was watching the show. "Jasmine's been through enough. She's here to promote her book, not be interrogated and chastised."
Sabotini leaned forward in her seat. "I find it hard to believe that you and your mother were oblivious to what was going on. I mean, your father was a serial killer. You were his daughter and you say you loved him, that he was a good father."
Vail grabbed Theo's arm. "Now. Tell her to back off. Or I'll go over there and tell her myself. While the camera's rolling."
Theo repositioned the headset mic in front of his lips. "Stephanie, the FBI agent's having problems with your questions. She wants you to back off."
Sabotini's eyes narrowed slightly and her head jerked slightly right, as if she took umbrage at Theo's remark. She refocused on Jasmine, who was answering the host's question.
"I was a kid. He treated me like I was a queen. I was like any other girl who loved her daddy. How could I know he was a serial killer?"
Sabotini glanced into the darkness and found Vail, whose angry gaze was fixed on her face. She cleared her throat and said, "How about we get back to your book, Jasmine?"
What a terrific idea. Vail nodded a thank you to Theo, who winked at her and arched his brow flirtatiously. Vail scratched a phantom itch on her cheek with her left hand, showing him her engagement ring. Taken. Sorry, buddy. She turned back to Jasmine, who was already answering Sabotini's follow-on question.
"It's not like my father turned to me one day and said, 'Honey bear, I killed fourteen people.' But he did say some weird things that, when I was older, started to make me think, reevaluate some of the things he'd said to me over the years."
"When you were a teenager," Sabotini said, "you found some duct tape with blood on it. And you went to the police."
"Well, when combined with the other things, yeah, the tape made me think something wasn't right. I saw articles in the paper, reports on the news about the Blood Lines serial killer in Virginia. They said he used a knife to carve parallel lines on his victims' stomachs — and they also said he used duct tape to tie up his victims. I saw my dad come home once with blood on his shirt. Wasn't much, but my mom saw it. He told her he cut himself on his truck and she didn't need to worry about it. But I started thinking, duct tape, blood ... what if my daddy was the killer? I got scared. I thought the police could tell me if he was the one."
"You were only fourteen. Did they believe you?"
"Not really. They brought him in and questioned him along with a bunch of other men from the area, to make it look like they weren't targeting him. And they didn't let on that I was the one who told on him. But ..."
"But they didn't arrest him."
"They said they had no evidence."
"Right," Sabotini said, "but four years later, you found some more duct tape."
Jasmine nodded, her gaze off somewhere behind Sabotini, into nothingness, like she was reliving the memory. "I found it in the trunk of his car. There was blood on the roll, on the inside, on the cardboard. I went back to the police and told them, again, that I was worried my father was the killer."
"And they believed you this time?"
"No. But I told them I was not leaving until I talked with the detective. So I sat there for an hour and the detective finally came with a social worker because I wasn't eighteen yet. I started telling him things my dad did over the years, times when he'd disappear for hours at a time, late at night. I'd wake up when he came home, three or four in the morning. I once came out of my room and asked him where he'd been. He didn't smell like booze, so he hadn't been out drinking."
"What'd he say?"
"His favorite answer. 'Don't worry about it, darlin'."
"Maybe he was having an affair."
"Maybe. But it always happened the night before another body was found. I started writing all these things in a journal, just in case I was right, in case he was the killer." "What other things were there?"
"Those are in my book, Stephanie," Jasmine said with a wry smile.
"They are indeed. Let's get back to that roll of duct tape you found. The second one. It later became key evidence."
"Right. The DNA was contaminated, so that was a problem. But there was something else. An issue with forensic procedure. Chain of custody."
"Even if it was considered 'tainted' evidence, why didn't they question him?"
"They told me they didn't want to tip him off. So they looked into his background and investigated without him knowing."
Sabotini leaned back slightly in her seat. "But that still got them nowhere. Isn't that when they called the FBI?"
"Their profiling unit. The police never could find much in the way of forensics at the crime scenes, so they needed someone to find another way to identify the killer. The agent gave them a profile that turned out to be very important."
"Thomas Underwood," Sabotini said. "We invited him to appear with you, but we were told he was unavailable. Instead, we've got his stand-in, Karen Vail, who's going to join us in a few moments to talk about ways of keeping ourselves safe from people like your father."
I'm a stand-in?
"Another three years passed before he was arrested," Sabotini said. "How did you handle that, living with your father, someone you suspected of murdering eleven women and three men?"
"The police told me they couldn't find anything linking him to the murders. The duct tape had only his blood and DNA on it. Bottom line, they said they had nothing proving, or even suggesting, he was the killer they were looking for. I believed them and started to relax. I started questioning everything. I was young, I told myself. Maybe I misinterpreted the things my dad told me. I realized, being older now, that there were different ways of taking what he'd said." She took a deep breath. "It was only me and my dad. My mom had passed by this time, and you know, like I said, he always treated me like a queen. Even when I thought he might be the killer, it made me apprehensive — I really just wanted to know, one way or another. But I never felt like I was in danger."
"What about after the police told you they had nothing connecting him to the murders? Did that ease your mind?"
"Well yeah, I felt relief, of course. But I also felt stupid." She looked up at the ceiling, took a breath. "I felt like I betrayed my own father. Going to the police ..." She shook her head. "I felt really, really guilty over that for a long time."
"When the police came to your door to arrest him, what was that like?"
Jasmine hesitated a moment, looked up again, searching for an answer, the bright white lights reflecting off tears pooling in her lower lids. She came off as articulate, honest, and photogenic: an athletic blonde with Nordic features. Easy to promote, easier to book on TV, with a compelling story.
"I went through a range of emotions. Shock. Anger at the police for getting it wrong — I mean, he'd killed a lot more people since I first went to them. Then there was betrayal — I mean, Roscoe Lee Marcks, my father, my dad, the man who tucked me in at night and gave me hugs and kisses, really was a serial killer. He murdered people. Lots of people. And he wasn't just any serial killer. He was the Blood Lines killer, a man who kidnapped women and men, tossed them into a panel van, tortured them, reviving them repeatedly, before slicing their bodies and cutting off their genitalia." Her voice caught and she looked down.
Sabotini tilted her head in mock empathy, bit her bottom lip, and waited for Jasmine to compose herself.
Jasmine looked up and dabbed at her teary eyes. She cleared her throat. "It's hard to explain what it feels like knowing that this coldhearted, brutal killer was my loving father. You start thinking, Why didn't he kill me? Was I ever in danger? When he got mad at me when I broke his favorite watch, was I — was he thinking of killing me?"
Vail glanced at the clock. They were due for a commercial break and then the focus of the show would pivot to her. She could not wait; Jasmine looked stressed and needed the interview to end.
"At first I had a tough time accepting it," Jasmine said. "But when Detective Curtis came to my house with Agent Underwood and they started going through things, what they knew, the type of person they were looking for, it sounded like a match for my father. That's when I realized it was not going to end well."
Vail snorted. Depends on your perspective. It certainly did not end well for Roscoe Lee Marcks.CHAPTER 2
Ninety minutes later Vail walked into her office in Aquia, Virginia. Her boss, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Thomas Gifford, was chatting in the hallway with her new unit chief, Stacey DiCarlo.
"How'd she do?" Gifford asked.
"The host really laid into her, asked some tough, very direct questions. Not exactly what she needed. I took care of it. She backed off but it was still emotionally trying."
"And I still think this hand-holding is a waste of Bureau resources," DiCarlo said.
Vail had been through this with her multiple times during the days leading up to the interview and did not feel like getting into it again.
"The reason for having Agent Vail there," Gifford said, "was to support our mandate to educate the public on staying safe. Not to hand-hold a witness."
Hmm, an assist from an unlikely source.
"I still don't think it's a good use of our time," DiCarlo said. "Or taxpayer money."
Gifford shoved both hands into the pockets of his slacks and rocked back on his heels. "Your concerns are noted. Thanks for your input."
DiCarlo frowned, then turned and huffed off down the hall. Gifford gestured with his chin for Vail to follow him into his office. On the way in, Vail nodded at Lenka, Gifford's assistant, and took a seat.
"How do you like your new unit chief?"
Vail glanced around. "Is this a trick question, sir?"
He threw out his hands. "Just trying to take the pulse of the unit."
"We think she's an asshole. She knows nothing about criminal investigative analysis and wouldn't know a valid profile if it struck her in the face. And I've been tempted, let me tell you."
"To strike her in the face."
Gifford struggled to subdue his smile. "Off the record, she wouldn't have been my first choice to lead the unit. But ... well, you know."
Vail tilted her head. "Know what?"
"We're supposed to increase the female head count. And with the success they've had with you, they're not only less reluctant to do so but they feel confident it'll work out well."
Smile and nod, Karen. That was a compliment.
"It's about the person, not the gender," she said. "Best person for the job, that's what matters. Sometimes that's a woman. Sometimes it's a man. But yeah, I think we do need more women in the BAU. We bring things to the table you men don't."
"I agree — but don't give Agent DiCarlo a hard time, okay? Let's give her a chance to find her legs."
Vail looked at him.
"Is that too much to ask?"
"That was not a rhetorical question, Agent Vail."
"Are you going to call me 'Agent Vail' when I'm your daughter-in-law? Just curious."
"In the office? Absolutely. Well, to your face, that is. You don't want to know what I call you when you're not around."
"So let's get back to Jasmine Marcks. You think she's going to be able to handle herself on book tour when you're not there to run interference?"
Vail thought about that a moment. "She made it through a childhood with a father who was a serial killer, and she dealt with the emotional stress of the trial and the intense media scrutiny. She'll be fine. She's tough."
Vail's Samsung vibrated. She glanced at the screen and saw Jasmine Marcks's number. "Guess who."
"Go on," Gifford said with a wave of his right hand. "Take it."
She swiped to answer and brought the handset to her ear. "Jasmine. Everything okay? I'm in a —"
"I got a message from him. When I got home, it was in the mail."
"Message from who?"
Vail glanced at Gifford. "What'd he say?"
"It's not what he said, it's what he didn't say."
Vail got up from her chair and began pacing. "Let's start with what he wrote. Then we'll worry about interpreting what he didn't write."
"That's just it. He didn't write anything."
Vail stopped and looked up. "Your father sent you a blank letter?"
"Jasmine. Are you overreacting? I mean, if there's nothing in —"
"He's playing with my head. Trying to get even because of what I wrote."
"You got all that from a blank piece of paper?"
"Do you think I'm wrong?"
"Other than mentally screwing with you, is there anything else behind this? Are you in danger?"
After a second's hesitation, she said, "He's in a max-security prison a hundred miles away. No. I don't think I'm in danger. It just — it unnerved me."
"I get it." Vail pinched the bridge of her nose. "How 'bout I stop by, you can show me the letter. And we can talk."
"I'd like that."
"Give me a few minutes to get some things squared away. I'll see you soon."
Vail hung up and turned to face Gifford, whose face was scrunched into a squint. "I assume you figured out what we were talking about."
"I did. You're going over there because her father sent her a blank letter."
Vail sighed. "It spooked her."
"So much for being tough."
"We all have things that get under our skin. She's been through a lot. Hard to know what's gonna be a trigger."
Gifford muttered something unintelligible, then rose from his seat and turned to face his window. He rotated a thin rod and the green miniblinds opened wider, revealing the fresh snow that had fallen that morning. "You're not her therapist, you know."
"Don't say it, sir."
"That I've been reduced to hand-holding."
Gifford let that hang in the air a moment — he was not verbalizing it because he did not need to. "Go. I'll tell DiCarlo I asked you to take something to headquarters for me. But this is a onetime thing. Your involvement with Jasmine Marcks is in the eleventh hour. We have pending cases that need your attention."
Gifford turned to her. "Besides, we don't want to give your unit chief any reason to gloat."CHAPTER 3
Vail arrived at the Bethesda, Maryland, home of Jasmine Marcks an hour after she called. The house was a modest two-story colonial among larger and more robust residences, some a hundred years old and others recently constructed or remodeled.
Jasmine came to the door wearing the same stylish black below-the-knee dress she had selected for the morning's television interview.
"Karen. I feel so silly to make you come down here. For a blank piece of paper, no less."
"You didn't force me. You didn't even ask me. I came because I thought it was important."
"Come in," Jasmine said, standing aside and allowing Vail to pass.
Vail had been here a couple of times seven years ago when Jasmine's father was about to stand trial. Jasmine testified and Vail accompanied the prosecutor when she questioned Jasmine about what she observed as a teenager.
"You've still not met with my father," she said.
Excerpted from The Darkness of Evil by Alan Jacobson. Copyright © 2017 Alan Jacobson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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