Bookworm: ‘ShadowMan’ – A gruesome tale of crime-solving

‘The Recovery Agent’ is a book to lose yourself in

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
"ShadowMan: An Elusive Psycho Killer and the Birth of FBI Profiling" author Ron Franscell.

“ShadowMan: An Elusive Psycho Killer and the Birth of FBI Profiling”

  • By Ron Franscell
  • c. 2022, Berkley
  • $27, 304 pages

A quarter of an inch. Roughly, that’s the thickness between your scalp and your brain: a tiny fraction of bone between the world and your history, beliefs, your thoughts, feelings, and ideas. It seems insignificant, but that space – about the same as four stacked pennies – is everything. What’s beneath it, as in the new book “ShadowMan” by Ron Franscell, well, it’s complicated.

"ShadowMan: An Elusive Psycho Killer and the Birth of FBI Profiling" by Ron Franscell.

It was toward the end of June 1973, and it wasn’t quite morning when fourteen-year-old Heidi Jaeger was awakened by a breeze.

Had she left the tent-flap open around midnight when she’d come back from an outhouse run? No, she’d been creeped-out by something and had gone straight back to the tent, but she was sure she’d zipped it up tight. All was well then – her siblings were asleep like a pile of puppies – but now, at that predawn hour, something was wrong.

Susie, Heidi’s seven-year-old sister, was gone, and there was a neatly cut hole in the tent near where her head should’ve been.

Because of federal laws, “with or without an invitation,” the FBI would be involved in this case and so Special Agent Byron Dunbar was called. Dunbar was a local guy who’d served under J. Edgar Hoover before returning home to care for his parents; he knew the terrain, so he started gathering evidence, but there wasn’t much of it. He began interviewing people who might’ve had information about the abduction, but even in everybody-knew-everybody Manhattan, Montana, nobody seemed to know a thing.

Then someone began phoning the Jaeger home, taunting Susie’s mother with false clues. And nineteen-year-old Sandy Smallegan disappeared.

Crime-solving in the early 1970s was still relatively simple, although the FBI had been working with intriguing new information. It’d already been established that some killers could be pre-identified by their habits and personality peccadilloes. Dunbar knew this, and with the Bureau’s help, he’d severely narrowed the list of suspects, but he was frustrated – until it was suggested that he use a new method of crime solving.

Voice printing, they said, was nearly as individual and distinctive as a fingerprint...

So, you know that squinchy-eyed face you make when the rest of your body cringes? Yeah, that’s what you’ll get when you read “ShadowMan.”

You’ll recoil because these crimes were gruesome and author Ron Franscell doesn’t candy-coat that; instead, he gives readers an armchair tour of an evil, depraved mind and the things it can do. Squirm and twist awhile, make that face, then let yourself be immersed in Franscell’s detailed account of the development of profiling methodology within the FBI. Yes, true crime fanatics, you’ll love how murder and history are woven together, especially if you’re already familiar with the Bureau’s ways. Whodunit fans won’t exactly find mystery in this story, but the background will appeal to you.

When you’ve got books about the Body Farm on your shelf, or anything by John Douglas or Robert Ressler, “ShadowMan” deserves to be right next to them. If you love a gruesome tale of crime-solving, wrap your head around this one.

Another book for true crime fans

“Bone Deep” by Charles Bosworth Jr. and Joel J. Schwartz. It’s the story of Betsy Faria’s murder – she was stabbed fifty-five times! – and a miscarriage of justice that jailed an innocent man and left a killer to roam free.

More:Bookworm: ‘The Heights’ – Everything a thriller-lover wants

“The Recovery Agent”

  • By Janet Evanovich
  • c. 2022, Atria
  • $28.99, 320 pages

It was just here a minute ago. You had it in your hand, you put it down for a sec, and it’s not where you left it. This constant search for things you’ve misplaced is ridiculous; just having to admit it is embarrassing. At least, as in the new novel, “The Recovery Agent” by Janet Evanovich. you lost it in this century.

Her grandmother said “Annie” wanted her to find the treasure.

That’s what Gabriela Rose was told, every single time she called home. “Annie” was sorry that rogue weather had destroyed Gabriela’s hometown. “Annie” wanted the village rebuilt with money from hidden treasure. Problem was that Scoon, South Carolina couldn’t wait much longer for any kind of rescue, and “Annie” had been dead for centuries.

"The Recovery Agent" by Janet Evanovich.

But never mind. Gabriela’s grandmother swore that there was a map beneath Annie’s former bedroom in a house that Gabriela’s ex-husband, Rafer, now owned, and it led to ancient treasure that was buried four centuries ago. For a recovery agent like Gabriela, who made her living by “recovering” anything, anywhere, for a price, stealing a possibly hidden map from possibly-under the floorboards of a possibly uninhabited house on the island of St. Vincent wouldn’t be difficult.

Right. Except Rafer caught her breaking-and-entering and he wanted in on the fun. He might have also wanted Gabriela in his bed again.

Good news: the map was real. Bad news: controlling Rafer was easier than getting the treasure. The map led to Machu Picchu, and a valley that was only accessible through a booby-trapped slice in the limestone. Luckily, there was help: Rafer hired two guides, one of whom had an uncle who grew coffee cocaine. Gabriela knew they were looking for a “dragon” and finding it was the first step to the treasure, but a dragon wasn’t a dragon.

“The Recovery Agent” author Janet Evanovich.

With tattoo’d face and greed in his eyes, El Dragón prayed to the god, Supay, who was very unhappy and would soon require a sacrifice. El Dragón (real name Leon Nadali) would do anything to please Supay again.

He just needed permission to kill Gabriela Rose first ...

Speaking of firsts, “silly” may be the word you think about when you start “The Recovery Agent.” Beloved author Janet Evanovich opens her new series with a new heroine, a new supporting cast, and a lot of far-fetching and over-the-top-ness. Fortunately, fans of Evanovich know that kind of goofing is the right way to launch a great story.

It’s like this: say you tapped a female Indy Jones to star in a remake of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” add heavy weaponry and some McGyver moves. Sprinkle deadly snakes and arm’s-length romance on the pages, plus warm waters, a ghost, and voila! Just what you want: fast-moving, whip-smart, fun entertainment.

Read this book first before recommending it to your Book Club. Its speedy plot may not be for everyone, but if you’re a devotee of Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, this new series will please you. As perfect escapism, “The Recovery Agent” is a book to lose yourself in.

More:Bookworm: ‘First Kennedys’ – A great book for genealogists, history-lovers

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.