When staying alive is the only game worth playing...
Detective Jacob Striker has had more than his fair share of brushes with death. But this one really shocks him. When he is called to attend a suicide at a decrepit apartment on the bad side of town, the case unexpectedly brings him one step closer to home. This time the victim is not just another sad statistic - the end product of mental illness and drug addiction - this time it's someone Striker knows and cares about.
And one thing is obvious to Striker: this wasn't a suicide.
Striker's investigation quickly leads him to the Riverglen Mental Health Facility. The victim was a patient from the support group overseen by psychiatrist Dr Erich Overmann. And when Striker discovers that Larisa Logan - a dear friend of his, is also a patient of Dr Overmann - has gone missing, his investigation goes into overdrive.
Racing against time and a chilling adversary, Striker searches desperately for Larisa. It is a dangerous game they play, where on right step can catapult you to a place of dominance - and one wrong step can leave you sliding to your doom.
Jacob Striker comes across as an engaging lead. He is driven to locate his missing friend and won't let bureaucracy stand in his way of getting to the truth. He has various run-ins with authority figures, and I always found myself willing Striker on. He has an old school approach to his investigation and tends to go with his gut. He'll take a chance and is willing to make intuitive leaps.
The dynamic between Striker and his partner Felicia was somewhat unexpected. They work together but there is a deeper relationship that causes a certain amount of friction between them both. I liked the unpredictability that this added to the narrative. The volatile spark this creates ensures that things never get boring while the partners try to unravel the mystery.
One of the things I particularly liked is the fact that the author includes a number of chapters written from the perspective of Striker's opponent. The reader gets to learn the motivations behind the person who is running rings around the authorities. You get inside their head and get a genuine sense of the chaos and cunning that resides there. I wouldn't dream of giving away any spoilers, but suffice to say that this character, known only as The Adder, is one extremely sick puppy.
A few years ago I read some crime fiction by another Canadian author called Michael Slade. Slade's novels are also set in Vancouver and were so dark that the stories seemed to exist somewhere in the thin line between crime and horror fiction. Sean Slater's writing puts me in mind of that work. Both authors have a certain flair when it comes to digging into the darker side of the human psyche. The psychological elements that are played upon in this story tread some pretty harrowing ground.
After a bit of investigation of my own I confirmed my suspicion that Snakes and Ladders is the second title to feature Jacob Striker. There is another novel called The Survivor, which is already available. Though I have not read this I don't think this detracted from my enjoyment of Snakes and Ladders. I picked up on a couple of references that must relate to the first novel but not knowing this backstory wasn't a particular hindrance. If anything I'm more inclined now to seek out the first book and fill in the blanks.
Snakes and Ladders is published by Simon and Schuster and is available now.