Snakes and Ladders | Book Review


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!

Book Review
Victoria Selman, Snakes and Ladders (Seattle: Thomas & Mercer, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Nothing to Lose | Book Review


Nothing to Lose is the second book in Victoria Selman’s mystery series featuring Ziba MacKenzie, a freelance criminal profiler who consults with New Scotland Yard. (I reviewed the first book, Blood for Blood, here.) In it, Ziba investigates two crimes: the  recent serial murders of young Persian women who look remarkably like herself and the murder of her husband some two years earlier.

The story begins in the third person, with the Saturday interrogation of a suspect. It then moves backward in time three days to Wednesday, when the serial murders started. The plot develops rapidly, and the time frame of both investigations is approximately one month. After the opening chapter, however, Selman tells the story in Ziba’s first-person narrative voice, interspersed with occasional but increasingly frantic blog posts from a potential murder victim. These blog posts provide crucial data needed to understand the resolution of the serial murders case, so pay attention!

I enjoyed the book on the whole, though an editor really should’ve condensed its 143 short chapters into fewer but longer ones. It seems to me that the number of the chapters made the book “feel” longer than it actually is. The serial murders plot receives the lion share of attention and is the best developed of the two cases. It involves two hard plot twists. I had an inkling of the first twist about halfway through, but the second one caught me by surprise. So, good on the author!

The husband-murder plot was less successful, in my opinion. In murder mysteries, it’s not uncommon for the lead character to investigate several crimes at once. (Think of just about any Bosch novel, for example.) Here, however, the second investigation distracted me more than it enhanced my enjoyment of the novel. Given the criminal enormity in the background of Ziba’s husband’s murder—he was with Scotland Yard too—it might’ve been better had Selman made this crime the focus of an entire book, not a sideline to the main plot.

One other small criticism: In my review of Blood for Blood, I mentioned that it had an “ensemble of secondary characters that grow on you.” Unfortunately, with the exceptions of Ziba herself and Jack Wolfe, her late husband’s best mate and a potential love interest, none of the characters from the first novel reappear in the second, at least not beyond a mention on a page or two. That was disappointing to me, as I’d grown to like some of the secondary characters in Ziba’s circle of acquaintance.

So, just four stars from me, not five. While Nothing to Lose wasn’t as good as Blood for Blood, it was still an enjoyable read, and I look forward to Book Three.

Book Reviewed
Victoria Selman, Nothing to Lose (Seattle, WA: Thomas & Mercer, 2019).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Blood for Blood | Book Review


Ziba MacKenzie is a criminal profiler who consults with Scotland Yard. On her way to dinner one night, the train she’s riding collides with a derailed tanker car, killing more than a dozen and wounding several hundred. Though injured herself, Ziba comforts a dying woman who with her last breath whispers an enigmatic confession: “He did it.” Who did it? What did he do? And why? are the questions Ziba asks herself.

But these questions get pushed to the side as Scotland Yard requests her services to help them catch the London Lacerator, a serial killer who’s started murdering again after a two-decade hiatus. The catch? While she’s profiling him, it turns out he’s profiling her too. Now the question is: Who will get to the other first?

Eventually, both sets of questions collide in Blood for Blood, the first book in a new series featuring Ziba MacKenzie and penned by Victoria Selman. It’s a page-turner with a likable protagonist, a plot with several twists, and a backstory and ensemble of secondary characters that grow on you. As a devoted reader of Sue Grafton and Michael Connelly, I’m always on the lookout for a new murder mystery series, and this one fits the bill. I’m looking forward to Nothing to Lose, the second book in the series, which releases March 26, 2019.

Book Reviewed
Victoria Selman, Blood for Blood: Ziba MacKenzie Book One (Thomas & Mercer, 2019).

P.S. If my review helps you form an opinion of the book, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

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