Review: Velocity

Velocity by Alan Jacobson

Thrillers and I do not have a good track record. I feel bad about that, so I’m always trying to find that elusive and possibly mythical thriller that will make me love the genre, or, at least, prove to me that there are good thrillers. When I was given the opportunity to review Alan Jacobson’s Velocity, I did my homework–I checked Amazon and filed through the reviews I could find. Reviews were positive, especially when it came to Karen Vail, the main character. I decided to take the plunge and give Velocity a read.

Velocity follows Karen Vail, an FBI profiler working a serial killer case in Napa Valley, on what was supposed to be a romantic getaway with her her boyfriend, Detective Robby Hernandez. When Hernandez is kidnapped, Vail will stop at nothing to rescue the man she loves, from going toe to toe with serial killers to facing the biggest drug cartels in the United States.

I do not like Karen Vail. She’s brash, rude, and immature. Her motivation throughout this entire novel is to rescue her boyfriend; understandable, yes, but Vail manages to be so stubborn and immature about following this one specific goal at the expense of everything else (especially her job) that it’s hard to like her. Her bosses and colleagues constantly call to her attention the fact that she’s neglecting to be a proper FBI agent because of her downright obsession with rescuing Robby; she blows off a murder case, breaks into houses, and is rude to nearly everyone she encounters, all the while cursing with the authenticity of a ten year old boy. And for all her credentials, she doesn’t seem particularly useful as an agent. Her anger issues get the better of her often (such as when she tries to intimidate a serial killer out of a chemically induced coma and then insults the doctor who asks her what on earth she’s doing) and her much-vaunted behavioral analysis only comes into play a few times–there’s even an instance where someone is unreadable to her, which made me roll my eyes. She gets defensive when other characters call her out for being a bad agent, which she completely deserves. It’s hard to sympathize with her as the book clearly wants us to–she manages to shame a doubting colleague into agreeing with her and she’s verbally validated at the end, despite all she’s done. Perhaps it would be easier if her actions were the only way that Robby could be saved, but Vail ends up having very little to do with the actual rescue, rendering a lot of her ridiculous and unprofessional behavior totally unnecessary.

This book also isn’t self-contained. It’s hard to care about Robby when you’ve never seen or encountered him before, and it’s only in the last third of the novel when we see him at all. Nearly half of the book is spent wrapping up the Crush Killer case from the previous Karen Vail novel, Crush, which proves that both Crush and Velocity aren’t standalone novels. The other half is devoted to combatting drug cartels in the Southwest. I applaud Jacobson in trying to play with the traditional thriller structure by including two cases, but both are tied by Robby’s disappearance and, thus, Vail’s obsessive quest to get him back. Velocity does have the quick, snappy chapters thrillers are known for, complete with a first chapter from the point of view of a serial killer who is caught halfway through the novel. But I would have liked it marginally better if we had had chapters from Robby’s perspective early into the novel–it would have certainly helped making his relationship with Vail believable and sympathetic, instead of Vail reflecting on their last night of passion before he disappeared.

This isn’t to say that Velocity is awful; the writing style is very workmanlike (with a few hilariously over-the-top noir moments), the pacing is relentless in a good way, and the supporting cast is quite nice. DeSantos, a charming operative who helps Vail, is quite fun, with his vast network of connections and resources that he can’t tell Vail about; his love for nice cars is nicely worked into the story, unlike several of Vail’s traits. I would be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally wish the book was about DeSantos from the point of view of a new partner. If you’ve read and enjoyed Crush, you’ll enjoy this (if only to get a proper ending to Crush, or so I hear). But between the fact that the book can’t stand on its own and the fact that I cannot stand Karen Vail, I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone, fan of thrillers or not.

Bottom line: Velocity’s crippling flaw is its main character, Karen Vail, a brash, rude, and immature FBI agent so obsessed with rescuing her kidnapped boyfriend that she neglects her job, breaks into houses, and insults nearly everyone she encounters–and we’re supposed to sympathize with her. It’s also an installment in a series that can’t stand on its own; you have to have read Crush, the previous novel in the series, to understand the first half. It’s not worth your time.

I received a free copy of this book for promotional purposes.

12 thoughts on “Review: Velocity

  1. I have trouble with thrillers too but I have come to an understanding/agreement with the genre — I will suspend all pretenses of disbelief as long as you keep me entertained and only annoy me mildly. When I go in with this attitude I seem to enjoy them more.

    • I take the same attitude with all “lighter” fiction. I don’t expect everything I read to be these deep, profound, incredible works (I think my head would explode if that’s all I ever read!), but the book had better be decently written. Karen would have driven me up the wall.

  2. I’m not a big thriller fan. From time to time I can do a Lee Child or Barry Eisler book, but…well, I generally just stick to my normal SF/F shelves. 😛

    Is it bad that this lined amused me?

    Velocity’s crippling flaw is its main character, Karen Vail, a brash, rude, and immature FBI agent so obsessed with rescuing her kidnapped boyfriend that she neglects her job, breaks into houses, and insults nearly everyone she encounters–and we’re supposed to sympathize with her.

    What a pet peeve I have for characters that just act like petulant, whiny, irresponsible people throughout a story. I can understand being emotionally compromised, but…there are lines. I’d prefer to see a pull between duty/responsibility and what someone believes or wants to do, you know?

  3. Wow, Karen sounds absolutely insufferable.

    I’ve pretty much avoided thrillers since my brief but intense obsession with John Grisham long ago. I’ve considered giving Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books a try, as they were recommended to me by a former bookstore coworker whose reading opinion I respected. I guess the genre just doesn’t hold much appeal for me anymore.

  4. I like Alistair McLean’s thrillers – generally not too long, but quite twisty, with resourceful heroes, and not too contrived. ‘When Eight Bells Toll’ is ace, and so too are ‘Ice Station Zebra’ and ‘The Golden Rendezvous’. He did write them from the 1950s onwards, I think, so you may find them a bit dated. A lot of his books were filmed, but I’d recommend the books over the filmed versions.

    Try Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen for comedy thrillers. I particularly enjoyed ‘Get Shorty’ by the former and ‘Lucky You’ by the latter.

  5. I’ve had some luck with thrillers. The Monkeewrench series by P.J. Tracy is a favorite and I found most of the characters likable. I also liked P.T. Deutermann’s The Cat Dancers and Spider Mountain, but I’m less sure in recommending that one to you, as it features a cop who must go on his own (as he suspects his investigative team of being compromised) to solve the case. Some people don’t like that whole loner against the corrupt system set-up, but it worked for me in those two books. They were the kind of gritty that appeals to me.

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