Book Review: The Darkness of Evil
Alan Jacobson has spent his twenty-year writing career delving into the deep reaches of the criminal mind, and The Darkness of Evil, his seventh novel featuring FBI profiler Karen Vail, is another fine entry in the canon. Drawing on his many years of work with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, Jacobson peers into the human persona and gives us Roscoe Lee Marcks, a determined and devious antagonist who cuts to the heart of our emotions: he’s a serial killer with a family, a man who raised a daughter all while murdering a dozen young women.
A core theme of The Darkness of Evil is Jacobson’s fascination with the concept of what would it be like to discover you’re the daughter of a serial killer. Jasmine Marcks was a teenager when she suspected that her father, Roscoe Lee, was the Blood Lines killer who had dominated the news. She went to police with evidence that ultimately helped send him to prison for life.
Seven years have passed and Jasmine has told her story in a true-crime book that chronicles her childhood growing up as the daughter of a serial murderer. In an attempt to obtain her father’s reaction, a journalist sends an advance reading copy to Marcks. As if he were not already harboring ill will toward his daughter for turning him in to the authorities, he takes umbrage at some of the things Jasmine has written about him. He sends her a letter from prison that contains veiled threats on her life…and the stage is set.
Enter Karen Vail, who is intimately familiar with both Jasmine and Marcks, as the Blood Lines killer was the first case Vail worked on after joining the FBI’s profiling unit. Although Marcks has refused to be interviewed by her since his arrest, he suddenly agrees to her request to talk with him. But when Vail arrives, Marcks turns contemptuously uncooperative and sneeringly hostile. One thing is clear to Vail, however: he intends to make good on his threat to harm Jasmine. Days later, to carry out that promise, Marcks stages an escape from prison that is both brutal and brilliant, leaving two dead in his wake.
Vail arranges for protection for Jasmine, but after one of the officers is murdered—in typical Roscoe Lee Marcks fashion—Jasmine goes into hiding rather than trust an FBI safe house. As the body count mounts in Marcks’s hunt for his daughter, no one is safe.
The US Marshals Service Violent Fugitive Task Force is assigned the Marcks escape and because of her intimate knowledge of Marcks, Vail is added to the group. The task force is composed of well-drawn law enforcement characters, four of whom figure prominently in the aggressive manhunt that ensues.
But Marcks is law enforcement-savvy and catching him proves difficult. He knows the methods the cops will use to entrap him—and effectively evades their search before going on the offensive himself.
In creating Roscoe Lee Marcks, Alan Jacobson has provided crime literature with one of its most malicious and driven killers, with all the unrepentant viciousness and cunning of Hannibal Lecter. Jacobson manages to convey all the tension and shock in deft touches without gratuitous gore, and Karen Vail, in turn, becomes a more complex and fascinating character with each outing.
The Darkness of Evil is chock full of twists and turns amid dramatic and skillfully plotted scenes that draw the reader in and tug at the emotions. Despite the swift-moving plot and ratcheting tension, the novel is not without the trademark Jacobson-infused Karen Vail brand of humor. This is difficult to pull off without killing the suspense or tension, but by incorporating it into both the character and situation, Jacobson makes it feel natural. The humor bolsters Vail’s endearing nature and solidifies the bond the reader feels with her.
In addition to the humor, The Darkness of Evil bears other Alan Jacobson fingerprints: his usual level of research on technology and tactics is evident throughout, though never at the expense of a plot that moves with brisk, page-turning action.
The Darkness of Evil is addictive reading, with more twists than a Chubby Checker album, by a master storyteller at the top of his game.