Title: The Survivor
Author: Sean Slater
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: March, 2011
Description: Columbine. Dunblane. Virginia Tech. Winnenden. But Saint Patrick's High?
In his first hour back from a six-month leave of absence, Detective Jacob Striker's day quickly turns into a nightmare. He is barely on scene five minutes at his daughter's high school when he encounters an Active Shooter situation. Three men wearing hockey masks - Black, White, and Red - have stormed the school with firearms and are killing indiscriminately.
Striker takes immediate action. Within minutes, two of the gunmen are dead and Striker is close to ending the violence.
But the last gunman, Red Mask, does something unexpected. He runs up to his fallen comrade, racks the shotgun, and unloads five rounds into the man, obliterating his face and hands. Before Striker can react, Red Mask flees - and escapes.
Against the clock, Striker investigates the killings for which there is no known motive and no known suspect. Soon his investigation takes him to darker places, and he realizes that everything at Saint Patrick's High is not as it appears. The closer he gets to the truth, the more dangerous his world becomes. Until Striker himself is in the line of fire.
And the violence follows him home.
My Thoughts: What begins as a typical run of the mill school shooting quickly escalates into much more. As a reader, I normally do not like a bunch of plot twists and sub-plots that sometimes cloud the main story. Fortunately, this worked for me in this story. As a society, we have seen more news about violence that it is easy to become desensitized to the horror of it. Had this book been about just a school shooting and the subsequent investigation, I probably would have given up on it. In this story, the school shooting is more an initiator of a bigger story.
This book is full of complex and interesting characters, each bringing a unique position to the story. Jacob Striker is a character carrying a lot of baggage already. When we first meet him, we see a police detective who is returning to duty after an extended leave of absence dealing with an incompetent supervisor, a man who is trying to cope with the death of his wife and a father who is struggling to connect with a teenage daughter who is angry and blames him for the death of her mother. He already has a full plate before the story even begins. When I thought he could take no more and would crack under the pressure, he continued to surprise me with his diligent and persistent investigation tactics.
The villain of this story, Red Mask, isn’t your typical bad guy, either. At first, I thought he was just a psychotic angry man who takes out his twisted feelings on innocent children. The author does a fabulous job of giving us a first person look into the mind of Red Mask, to see what he sees and relive what he’s lived through in his life to make him the cold-blooded killer he has become. Not to excuse or justify his actions, but to give the reader a better sense of the path he has walked that has led him to the shooting. Red Mask is a formidable adversary, almost robotic in his thinking. I found myself comparing him to The Terminator as I was reading and the scene from The Terminator when Kyle tells Sarah Connor that he will never stop until she is dead.
The author does an amazing job of peeling back the layers of the story, drawing me in with the suspense and high adrenaline-charged scenes without bogging me down in the technical and police procedural details. Surprisingly, this is the author’s debut novel. With writing like this, I can only hope we will be seeing more of Detective Jacob Striker.
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