Book Review

Book Review : A Serpent Uncoiled by Simon Spurrier

A missing mobster. A bizarre spiritualist society. And three deaths, linked by a chilling forensic detail.

Working as an enforcer in London’s criminal underworld brought Dan Shaper to the edge of a breakdown. Now he’s a private investigator, kept perilously afloat by a growing cocktail of drugs. He needs to straighten-up and rebuild his life, but instead gets the attention of his old gangland masters and a job-offer from Mr George Glass. The elderly eccentric claims to be a New Age Messiah, but now needs a saviour of his own. He’s been marked for murder.

Adrift amidst liars and thugs, Shaper must push his capsizing mind to its limits: stalked not only by a unique and terrifying killer, but by the ghosts of his own brutal past.

This is Simon Spurrier’s second novel published by Headline, whilst I was aware of him as a writer I haven’t read his previous novel Contact but I’ve heard decent things about it. I was really taken by the synopsis for A Serpent Uncoiled and thought I would give it a go. I’m so glad that I did, within a few pages I was completely hooked – I read it in a morning and even put off lunch so that I could finish it.

The book opens with private investigator Dan Shaper wrapping up a case at a brothel. Once he’s finished with the case he’s planning on taking some time off to detox (he keeps himself going by self-medicating in a terrifyingly precise manner) but he gets a call that pulls him straight into another case – detox must wait.

The new case initially seems pretty straightforward and standard crime thriller fare, there is a serial killer on the loose who has warned a future victim that he’s a target. The potential victim, George Glass, is far from standard. He claims to be over a thousand years old and some sort of spiritual Messiah complete with his own following of new age enthusiasts. Very quickly the plot moves on from feeling even remotely familiar as it twists through drug fuelled hazes, passing gangland mobsters and aura seeing hippies on the way. Time after time the reader is lead along with Shaper down dead ends, as Spurrier first flings out plot threads galore and then weaves them all back in together for the final reveal of whodunnit and both how and why.

I felt by the end of the first chapter that I had a pretty good idea of who Dan Shaper was. Very quickly however I started to realise that there was more to him than being a PI, he has a hard past that is never far away leaving him with contacts in both the police and London’s criminal underbelly that he doesn’t always want. He used to be a man who would solve any problem any way, he’s trying hard to leave that life behind but it’s insisting on clinging on. He’s a hugely engaging character, I initially couldn’t quite take to him but the more I read of him the more I understood him. I’m still not sure that I could say that I liked him, but I was most definitely rooting for him for the majority of the book.

The book is filled with interesting, well created characters who all have their part to play in the plot. I found Glass’ daughter Sandra very compelling, and loved the rather unusual criminal Coram family. I really wanted to love Vince, Shaper’s closest ally, but I didn’t like some of his actions towards the end of the book so ended up with mixed feelings towards him.

The book is written in a fast and intricate manner. The plot could have spiralled out of control and ended up confusing but Spurrier has a great handle on it from start to end. It is only as he starts weaving all of the story threads together that you realise that nothing is in the book by accident, everything is there for a reason and has its part to play. It’s an intelligent and entirely satisfying read, particularly as the solution plays out for both Shaper and the reader.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as I’ve already said I put off food for it which as my friends and family know is a big thing for me to say. I’m certainly going to be catching up with Contact and looking forward to whatever Simon Spurrier writes next.

A Serpent Uncoiled is published in hardback by Headline in the UK from 4th August 2011 priced £12.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

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