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.