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Book Review: The Serpent’s Bite by Warren Adler

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Do not pick up The Serpent’s Bite if you do not enjoy reading dark, twisted material. And by that be aware that no taboo is too dark. Along with greed,malevolence, and a female character so obsessed with the need for celebrity that she has become a monster, the book deals quite graphically with incest, and this reviewer, frankly, had to skip those pages.

However, if you do like the dark and twisted, you will find this book riveting right up to the end. Adler certainly knows how to build a plot.

The title is taken from Shakespeare’s King Lear: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.”  George Temple, a wealthy dealer in gems, has two, his daughter Courtney and his son Scott. Courtney is a failed actress and Scott is just a loser at everything. Although Temple has plenty of money, he has tired of throwing it away on his thankless children and they have become estranged for several years following their mother’s death.

But now George wants to start a new life with a new woman, and he wants to try once again to reunite with his children. To do so, he invites them on a horse trek through the Yellowstone wilderness. But what was supposed to be a fresh start for the family quickly becomes a dangerous nightmare as the wild surroundings bring out the dark nature in the siblings and a drunken trail master and unscrupulous horse wrangler escalate the danger that waits around every turn.

Certainly, Courtney is as evil and amoral a character as Lady MacBeth or any female villain in any story I’ve ever read. She is the only strong character in the book; everyone else is weak and bendable in one way or another.

Adler deliberately writes to make a reader uncomfortable, but the way he portrays the Mexican horse wrangler here is really racist and plays to stereotypes in a way that is at least as uncomfortable as the rest of the plot.

There is no redeeming moral to this story, no point of light. Most people are not likely to find the ending satisfactory. If those are the things you look for in a book, this isn’t it. Think tragedy because that is the very definition of The Serpent’s Bite

While it was definitely not to my taste, and in fact left this reader feeling profoundly annoyed, the book is very taut and suspenseful, and for those who fancy reading about the dark side, this certainly will be the story for them.

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, and Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.