"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Shape of Snakes by Minette Walters

I've been wanting to read one of her mysteries for a while now and the "Publishers Weekly" review of this one got me interested. I'm happy to report it more than lived up to expectations.

Written in first person, it is the story of a personal mission undertaken by the narrator, a woman we know only as M. Ranelagh. One rainy night, she found "Mad Annie" dying in a gutter in their London neighborhood and when she claims Annie was murdered and didn't die accidentally -- drunk, she supposedly fell into the path of a truck and was thrown back, dying of her injuries -- as the coroner claimed, she's labeled mad herself and hounded until a breakdown helps lead her and her husband to leave England. Even her husband and mother believed the racist cop who refused to take her claims seriously. Only her father was, as we learn, steadfast in his support. Now, twenty years later, M. and her family are back and the reader learns she has not abandoned her hunt for the truth.

She finds herself going up against the prejudices of her former neighbors, people she labeled racist twenty years earlier. "Mad Annie," a black woman prone to cursing and shrieking due to Tourette's Syndrome, had been reviled by her poor, mostly uneducated white neighbors, as M. learns, had been tormented by those neighbors. Slowly, through the narration and well placed "letters" and other "documentation" M. has gathered over the years, the full story emerges, and it leads M. to places that come painfully close regarding her husband and people she considered friends.

Truth, as M. learns can be painful and have consequences, but ultimately, it redeems itself and sets one free. This book is an exhilariting exploration of the nature and value of facing truth.