Snakes and Ladders is the third installment in Victoria Selman’s murder mystery series featuring Ziba MacKenzie, former British Special Forces officer, now “freelance offender profiler and serial killer expert,” as one character describes her in the book. (See my previous reviews here and here.)
It is four stories rolled into one: First, Ziba’s collaboration with New Scotland Yard as they hunt for the Pink Rose Killer, so called because PRK places a pink rose next to victims’ bodies. Second, PRK’s backstory, told in flashback sequences, which explain the motive behind the murders, at least partially. Third, Ziba’s interactions with Dr. Victor Sange, the Butcher of Balliol, a hyper-intelligent Oxford don with a penchant for murder, who claims to know PRK’s identity and who likes to cultivate disciples, even from prison. Sange is serving time for murder in England but awaiting extradition to the U.S. for capital crimes committed there. And, finally, Ziba’s evolving relationship with Jack Wolfe, the only journalist to whom PRK corresponds, but whose relationship with Ziba keeps putting him in personal and professional danger.
All told, this was a well-crafted murder mystery that kept me turning pages, my number-one requirement in books of this sort. At first reading, I didn’t see any plot holes and didn’t experience any moments where my willing suspension of disbelief was challenged. However, one character, introduced at the start of the story, struck me as a bit “off,” and toward the end of the story, even Ziba took notice. I’m sure that “offness” will play a role in Selman’s next book, since that character announced a last-page plot twist that I didn’t see coming at all.
I look forward to the fourth installment in this series, which is quickly becoming one of my favorites as old warhorses like Jack Reacher and Walt Longmire are losing my interest. Highly recommended!
Victoria Selman, Snakes and Ladders (Seattle: Thomas & Mercer, 2019).
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