After his girlfriend is kidnapped, a disturbed teenager goes on a brutal killing spree in order to get her back.
This is a monster of a book, which is perhaps appropriate given it’s subject matter. At 577 pages, it’s a considerable time commitment to read about unlikable characters doing despicable things. Thankfully, for most of the book Ungar explores the psychology of what it takes to perpetrate such horrific crimes, emphasizes the humanity of the torture victims, and juxtaposes the titular Snake’s murders with the police task force assigned to bring him to justice.
While there were lots of little implausibilities that kept me from truly appreciating the gravitas of the situation, I enjoyed the different threads presented in the first two thirds of the book. There’s the Snake, a privileged young man from a dysfunctional home who does very bad things for a good reason. His victims, some mobsters involved in prostitution and sex trafficking, are not used to being victims and it’s interesting to see how they react when they suddenly become prey. Add into the mix Allison, the captured girlfriend who is doing her best to survive in a terrifying situation, the Russian mob who are taking advantage of a shift of power within the organized crime circles, and the police who are searching for a vicious killer while being hampered by corruption and divided loyalties within the force, and you have all the elements for a gripping thriller.
Unfortunately, there is only one way that this story can end, and that’s badly. There’s no easy resolution for people like Allison and Snake, not after the things they’ve done and been through. Organized crime is a hydra, and cutting off the head of one mobster only leads to more rising to fill the vacuum. Making deals with kindly Russian crime bosses results in a tangled web that can never be walked away from. Police arrests and convictions don’t bring back the dead or fix the shattered lives of those left behind.
I think Ungar must have realized this and decided he didn’t want to follow the logical progression of a plot he had carefully crafted, because the third act veers into full on fairytale territory, like a Taken x Dexter revenge porn fantasy, where the couple who slays together stays together and everyone walks away happily.
I know that a lot of people will be happy with that change in direction. Movies about mild mannered men who become unstoppable killers to save family members and walk away unscathed by their actions seem endlessly popular. However, the first two thirds of Snake promised a more thoughtful and realistic approach to the revenge scenario, and I was disappointed this didn’t continue through to the end.
I award Snake…