Dan Shaper is sitting in his van listening in on people having sex. He is on a case. The madam of a brothel for elderly gentlemen contacted him. It seems someone has been pilfering from the tiger penis powder sold to the men to rejuvenate them. No signs of forced entry and no real clues. He installed bugs in the rooms of the girls working the brothel, but so far only grunts and squeals of pleasure. He's even learned the trademark of each girl for when they 'climax'. His hands are shaking and he is feeling nauseus, he is close to the limit of what his body can tolerate. He needs to get off the drugs before he burns out. Endure the Sickness in his head while his body is cleansed. He has to crack the case tonight. Vince, a massive brute of a man, is sitting next him belching from his beer and boredom. Sighing, Dan listens to Melanie 'coming' for a third time.
Seven days and nights in the van finally pays off as Dan's drug addled brain kicks into overdrive. Melanie only ever comes twice. Busted!
Having solved the mystery of the missing tiger penis powder Dan Shaper decides it times to detox before his brain is fried. He's at home preparing himself, when the doorbell rings. It's a gorgeous voluptuous blonde, who in a thick Swedish accent explains that her employer wants to see Dan Shaper. Dan at first refuses, his brain and body is simply not up to it, but he relents when she mentions how much he would get paid for a consultation.
Dan Shaper follows the girl to a massive house, where he is introduced to her eccentric employer, who explains that he was threatened. Someone sent him a letter naming him as a person on a list containing clippings from a newspaper of another murder. The old man wants Dan Shaper to assess if the threat is real or not, and under no conditions can the police be involved.
This is the start of a really trippy ride through Simon Spurrier's gorgeously dark and seedy London.
A Serpent Uncoiled surprised me, in a good way. It's a different take on the private eye, but not too far away from what you are used to. Dan Shaper is still a 'good guy', but someone who used to be a 'bad guy'. He has some pretty unique connections on both sides of the fence, which makes it a very interesting read. He is also not afraid of getting tough with people who deserve it, and when the Sickness hits he gets very violent, way too violent. Simon Spurrier has created a fascinating protagonist in Dan Shaper. Police detectives and private eyes almost always have a heavy burden, but with Dan Shaper it goes one step further. He is not on the edge of the cataclysm, his past has drop-kicked him over the edge, and he is already falling down into the fires of hell. The only reason he has not already hit rock bottom is his drugs. Alas, they cannot completely cure him, only let him retain his sharp mind, but the Sickness sometimes seeps out to embrace him with nightmares.
Dan Shaper going bonkers was something that worried me before I started reading the book. Normally, I don't like it at all. Possibly something that works better in books than movies as I can only recall movies, like Shutter Island, where a nutty protagonist did not work for me. Simon Spurrier uses Dan Shaper's madness in very clever ways. It's often even beneficial to Dan Shaper, and it's hard to distinguish from the magic within his madness.
It's a book with a strong plot as well. It kept me guessing to the very end what would happen next, and there are plenty of twists and turns. I always admire a writer who is able to move the plot forward without resolving to dirty tricks with coincidences or unavoidable events. In A Serpent Uncoiled the plot is driven by the characters, and reacts to their actions, which makes for a very smooth read.
A Serpent Uncoiled is a book with a very strong protagonist, who is backed up by equally strong supporting characters. Dan Shaper is a man who has done so much evil and is desperate to find something good in himself before his past actions destroys him. It's a book that you don't want to put down, and when you wake up in the morning you can't wait to start reading it. It has everything: action, suspense, humour and passion. Don't miss A Serpent Uncoiled and keep your eyes open for the next book from Simon Spurrier.
A Serpent Uncoiled weighs in at 404 pages and is published by Headline.
Recommendation: must read