Spectrum by Alan Jacobson is a very interesting thriller as it explores the main characters’, Karen Vail’s, backstory. Through a serial killer case that has haunted Vail for twenty years the author gives insight into her professional development: who were the people that influenced her, and her tenacious desire to pursue the criminal. The chapters in the book alternate from present day back to her first days on the job.
Jacobson commented, “While writing her as a rookie cop in her early twenties I was nervous at first. But after the first paragraph I saw how I could explore her attributes and her life. In the 7th Victim I alluded to why she decided to become a profiler but now I specifically explain what happened. I was also able to describe how she allowed herself to marry a loser husband who was abusive. This sub-plot showed what could happen to someone who has a psychiatric condition that goes untreated.”
The story reflects themes of friendship, trust, hardship, and perseverance. Vail’s law enforcement career begins in the 1990s as a NYPD rookie cop mentored by a veteran, Carmine Russo, who takes her under his wing. She displays the qualities of courage, confidence, and intelligence while attempting to examine the workings of the murderer’s mind. Unfortunately her supervisors do not always agree with her assessments, resulting in her career stalling. After meeting and being influenced by FBI Special Agent Mark Safarik she decides to join the FBI, eventually getting assigned to the esteemed Behavioral Analysis Unit. Now twenty years later, Vail revisits her first case, the one that tortured her because of the number of New York women brutally murdered.
Since so many of Jacobson’s characters are from law enforcement he speculated on what they would say in regard to the attitude toward the police today. “Through my research I interacted with NYPD old timers. I think my characters would agree with those who have retired. They are not happy with the Mayor, who does not seem to have their backs, and the way they are being depicted. The feelings include frustration and anger because there is a lack of understanding for the day-to-day duties. The police are individuals trying to do a job the best way they can.”
Jacobson also wants readers to understand, playing off the Billy Joel song, that while writing this book, “I was in a ‘New York state of mind.’ It started from a trip in 1995 when I made a visit to New York City, where I grew up. You can take the man out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the man. This is absolutely true with me. My heart and soul is as a New Yorker even though I have lived in California ten years longer.”
Spectrum has a plot that combines a mystery with an understanding of how the mind of a serial killer works. It explores how these individuals can commit such violence on other human beings. Fans of Karen Vail also get a bonus because the storyline explains her backstory.