Psycho meets The Silence of the Lambs
One killer on the loose. Another setting the rules. A profiler caught in the middle.
A serial killer is terrorising London, removing a body part from each victim and leaving in its place a single pink rose.
Dr Vernon Sange, a multiple murderer awaiting extradition, seems to know the culprit’s identity—but he’ll only talk to profiler Ziba MacKenzie, the woman responsible for putting him away. Though there’s something he wants in return from her. And time is running out.
With one killer whispering in her ear and another running rings around the police, Ziba must play a game in which only her opponent knows the rules, and the forfeit is death.
Hi and welcome to my review of Snakes and Ladders! This is the third novel in the Ziba MacKenzie series, but I assure you it can be read as a standalone and I know that because I did. For reasons I can’t even begin to understand, I completely missed the first two books and to add insult to injury, I hadn’t even heard of Victoria Selman (gasp!). Then Snakes and Ladders started popping up all over my Twitter timeline and I stumbled across it on NetGalley. When I spotted that tagline (Psycho meets The Silence of the Lambs) I didn’t bother looking up the book nor the author, I just requested it and it was only when I was approved and went to add it on Goodreads that I noticed it was part of a series. Regulars here will know I like to read books in the right order but I didn’t think I’d have the time to squeeze in two more books before this one so I decided to give it a whirl and see what happened (living on the edge ?). I’m happy to report I didn’t feel like I was missing anything, I connected with Ziba immediately, despite having missed her first outings, and there’s enough background information to just step into the series without a hitch.
Ziba MacKenzie is a freelance profiler. At the beginning of the book, she’s giving a lecture in Quantico to FBI agents in training when she’s called away to London: Scotland Yard needs her help with the Pink Rose Killer, a serial killer whose MO is to remove a body part from his victim and leave a pink rose at the scene. Funnily enough, the PRK is not the main serial killer in Snakes and Ladders: the star serial killer is Vernon – The Butcher – Sange, who was apprehended a while ago thanks to Ziba, and who has contacted the police saying he has intel on the PRK but he’ll only tell Ziba.
Now, Ziba is a great protagonist. She’s smart, she’s both strong and vulnerable, she has the kind of humour that I love, rather dark and very sarcastic, and she’s always at odds with the DCI with whom she has to work the case and I loved her little retorts, even if she keeps them to herself. But my favourite character, without a doubt, was Dr Sange, a cunning man, far more charming than Hannibal Lecter ever was, messing with Ziba’s head the way Lecter did with Clarice, and then some. Move over Hannibal Lecter, move over Anson Bishop, there’s a new serial killer in town! (For the record: I’m not a serial killer groupie, I only like the fictional kind!)
By now I think I must have read an entire library of crime and psychological thrillers and quite a large subsection of serial killer thrillers at that, so I think it’s fair to say I’ve become a little jaded and the things that used to work for me don’t always cut it anymore. Snakes and Ladders made me a very happy reader because it felt unique by focusing on the behavioural science behind the attempts to apprehend a serial killer, to pre-empt him, to predict his next move, while also zooming in on the behavioural analysis of convicted killers, and why that is important. I’ve read other books featuring a profiler, but none that go this far into the actual science. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a text book in any way, but I felt like I was learning a lot while simultaneously being entertained. I find the whole profiling thing absolutely fascinating so I paid extra attention (part of me wonders whether I should have read Psychology in uni instead of Translation Studies) but even if you don’t care about behavioural analysis that much, I’m sure you can enjoy this novel too.
This is an intriguing, suspenseful read, and although I figured out who the PRK was from the start and it turned out I was right not to trust one of the other characters either, it doesn’t even matter, not even a little bit, because to me Snakes and Ladders is not a whodunnit, it’s not about revealing the who, it’s about revealing the why, it’s less about the destination and more about the journey to find out the truth and you’d better believe it’s left me
hungry ravenous for more! If you’re not into open endings, don’t worry, the PRK case is neatly wrapped up, but let’s just say another character has kicked the door to the next Ziba instalment wide open, and ending the way it does, I literally CANNOT WAIT for the next Ziba MacKenzie!
Recommended, and if Mindhunter is your favourite Netflix show then this is a must read!
Snakes and Ladders is out in eBook format now, and in paperback on 17 December, don’t miss it! (Pre-)order it on Amazon here.
Many thanks to Amazon Publishing UK and NetGalley for the eARC. All opinions are my own.