J. David Bethel Goes on the Hunt for a Serial Killer in Psychological Thriller “Mapping the Night”

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It was an image so haunting that J. David Bethel couldn’t shake it. The Florida-based thriller author was reading the New York Times one day when he came across an article about a woman who was strangled.

Long fascinated with crime and the darker recesses of the criminal mind, Bethel was struck by what officers encountered when they got to the crime scene: the victim, a pretty young woman, lay dead next to her young son. The boy was rubbing ice cubes on the face of his dead mother – just like she would do when he came down with a fever.

“He thought this would make her better, but of course it was too late,” says Bethel. “I couldn’t get rid of the image. It was so powerful, so tragic, so heartbreaking, and it led to so many questions. That’s when I knew I had my next book.”

A fictionalized version of the scene launches Mapping the Night, the latest suspense-filled thriller by the award-winning author of intricately plotted novels inspired by real characters and events, many taken from Bethel’s own colorful life in politics and as the son of a globe-trotting Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. State Department.

Out this June from Brick Tower Press, Mapping the Night follows the hunt for a serial killer terrorizing New York’s Upper East Side in attacks carried out only under cover of dark, bringing the reader into a shadowy underworld where evil lurks everywhere, and nothing is as it appears.

Two investigators, FBI Special Agent Eileen Prado and New York Police Department commanding officer Nadine Robinson, soon find they are up against more than just a sadistic and crafty killer but an elaborate cover-up that may reach the highest levels of American government.

“There are people in politics who are responsible for this killer being on the street – and who do not want him caught,” says Bethel.

For Bethel, crime and conspiracy go hand in hand in books, such as Evil Town (Tell-Tale Publishing Group: 2015), Holding Back the Dark (Whiz Bang: 2020) and Mapping the Dark (2024). “No crime is solved in a vacuum,” says Bethel. “There are always other elements pushing and pulling investigators. In Mapping the Dark, local, and national politics play a role.”

With a 35-year career in politics and government at the senior level in Congressional offices and within the Executive Branch, he has set novels in Washington and internationally. Mapping the Night is his first book taking place in New York, a city that is close to Bethel’s heart. His mother grew up in Brooklyn, and while Bethel spent much of his childhood living abroad, he remained a diehard Brooklyn Dodgers fan, once even meeting Dodger icon Jackie Robinson when the team was barnstorming Japan while Bethel’s father was stationed there.

“One of my dad’s jobs as a press attache for the embassy was to escort visiting dignitaries and I got to have a long conversation with Jackie Robinson in the dugout,” says Bethel, “I could have died and gone to heaven right there. I wanted to talk to him about baseball and all he wanted to talk about was my life in Japan and the Japanese people and culture.”

As Bethel researched Mapping the Night, he didn’t let his nostalgic love for the Big Apple distract from taking an unblinking at the city’s darker and disturbing side, where politics – in Bethel’s telling — is literally a blood sport.

“I love New York and I love visiting my family there,” he says. “My mom is from there and my son lives there. I enjoy museums and the Lincoln Center and all the other attractions as well as the incredible diversity of the city. But then you see something like that article about the little boy and the mother. It’s that combination of things, those stark differences, that make for the best stories.”

J. DAVID BETHEL

Biography

As the son of a U.S. State Department Foreign Service Officer, J. David Bethel hopscotched around the world, from one of his father’s embassy postings to another, finding himself, in 1959, in Cuba, sitting in a hotel room with Fidel Castro, just one week after Castro had come to power. 

He was there with his brother Raul, and Che Guevara – all these men with big beards, long hair, the rifles and handguns, just a week after they came out of the mountains,” recalls Bethel. “When Castro noticed I was looking at his pistol, he asked my dad, ‘Can I show your son my gun? And my dad said yes, but first unload it.’” 

As David held the heavy gun, he couldn’t help but like the revolutionary leader — until a few minutes later when Castro gave a press conference that Bethel’s father, a press attache for the American embassy, helped organize. A reporter badgered Castro with questions the Cuban leader clearly didn’t want to answer. Bethel watched, stunned, as Castro’s entire personality changed. Castro’s stone-cold glare toward the reporter still chills down Bethel’s spine. “He was a completely different person,” recalls Bethel. “It was a lesson to me about the dark side of human nature.” 

Today, Bethel is an award-winning author, mining his memories from his globetrotting youth as the son of an embassy press attache for his political and psychological thrillers that explore the violence always simmering in the dark recesses of human nature.  As Bethel says, “My childhood was fertile training ground for a fiction writer.” 

His latest novel, Mapping the Night (2024), follows a pair of investigators – one for the FBI, the other for the NYPD — whose probe into a New York City serial killer is being hampered by a person – or persons – in government. The question is why? 

As with Bethel’s other books, Mapping the Night is fast-paced, intricately plotted, with compelling characters in the kinds of glamorous, high-stakes worlds in which Bethel grew up and later worked. 

A graduate of Tulane University, Bethel followed his father into a government career and politics. He served as press secretary and speechwriter for Members of Congress as well as a senior adviser and speechwriter for the secretaries of Commerce and Education. 

Bethel also worked as a media consultant for prominent communications management firms, and wrote speeches, opinion editorials in leading newspapers, and congressional testimony for CEOs from the nation’s largest corporations. 

Getting so close to political and business leaders, Bethel saw the dynamics of power first-hand. And while he never stumbled into the kinds of murderous conspiracies he’d later write about — “I worked for very smart, dedicated people trying to make a difference,” he says, adding with a laugh: “Not like today.” 

Still, he recognized the literary potential of his experiences in politics. “I was always writing down ideas,” he said. “Politics mixes everything that fiction authors write about: sex, crime, psychology, power — all of it. I take a kernel of an idea and weave it into a story.” 

Not surprisingly, many of his novels lean into politics. Evil Town (2015, Tell-Tale Publishing Group) tracks an FBI investigation into the murder of the wife of popular Florida congressman that takes the story from the Pentagon to small-town Florida. No Immaculate Conceptions (2018, Two Dog Publishing) follows a frantic young presidential speechwriter who is pursued by a psychopath. 

A meeting with a fan broadened his writing. A private investigator who admired Bethel’s work recruited him to write a true-crime book about the case of a man who was kidnapped, tortured, and extorted for millions of dollars. Bethel felt it would make a better springboard for a psychological thriller, albeit one that brought him from political intrigue to a psychological thriller. 

After the ensuing novel, Blood Moon (Tell-Tale Publishing Group) in 2016 came Wretched (2022, AAEB Publishers), in which the justifiable homicide of a town bully leads to the investigation of a serial killer; Unheard Of (2019, Whiz Bang Publishing), about a serial killer haunting the Las Vegas Strip; Little Wars (2020, Whiz Bang Publishing) about a family murder-suicide local officials seem strangely intent on keeping under wraps. 

I’m always trying to understand these people, the Ted Bundys of the world, to understand what leads them to such horrible ends,” he says. “I now understand that these people are predators and for them hunting other human beings is like a hunter going after an animal. Nothing is going to stop them unless they themselves are caught or killed.” 

Now living in Florida in the Orlando Area, Bethel has retired from politics and government and devotes himself to writing. “I have the experiences, I have the imagination,” he says. “I take all this stuff that’s in my back pocket and with a lot of hard work and muscle turn it into fiction.” 

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March 2024

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