Alan Jacobson’s latest thriller, Inmate 1577, is by far his greatest work to date—and that’s quite a statement since Jacobson’s novels have been one of the best kept secrets in publishing for nearly a dozen years. It’s clear that Jacobson has hit his stride and that Inmate 1577 elevates him to a new level, but there’s something about Inmate 1577 that sets it apart. The question was, What?
Inmate 1577, which brings us another helping of the irresistible (and irascible) FBI Profiler Karen Vail, is told in two tracks, one taking place in the 1950s and 1960s, and the other in present-day San Francisco—and they alternate. Switching back and forth between time periods is hard to pull off, but Jacobson somehow makes it work to great effect. The first story deals with the downward spiral a man’s life takes when his wife is murdered and he is arrested for the crime. He’s found not guilty, but he’s become such a pariah that he can’t get a job. With a young son to support, he turns to bank robbery, a decision that proves catastrophic. The present-day story takes place in San Francisco, as elderly men and women are murdered in different parts of the city. FBI Profiler Karen Vail is sent to assist the SFPD, and ultimately, this storyline lands on the infamous island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, and merges with the storyline from the past.
I’ve always believed that the research authors put into their books can be important, but the detail in Inmate 1577 goes above and beyond, making the story that much richer and believable; in a way it almost reads like nonfiction because you truly believe you’re watching history unfold before you. And in a sense, that is what’s happening. Jacobson cleverly brings together a real event that occurred on Alcatraz back in 1961-2 and inserts his character into the action—all while remaining true to the facts of the actual event.