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The Serpent Papers is complex and interwoven narrative spanning several centuries. The writing is rich in description, at times, intense, and very evocative. An ambitious debut, very cleverly conceptualised.
Our protagonist, Anna Verco, is an academic, with a fascination in historic literature. Her various skills, including a sixth sense for hidden locations, result in her employment within Picatrix, a mysterious, and somewhat shady, corporation. She is challenged with the task of tracking down some mysterious documents, the eponymous ‘Serpent Papers’, which allegedly contain lost secrets and the road to personal power.
Anna’s search takes her to Spain. As the secrets deepen and the mystery unfolds, links start to appear, connecting these manuscripts with the brutal murders in 2003 of three women and the much-adored Spanish actress, Natalia Hernandez. These murders may be in the past, but as Anna’s search continues, it soon becomes abundantly clear: the murderer is still out there.
This is an elaborate and complex story, with excerpts from diaries, letters, and conversations interwoven into the prose. It is the sort of narrative that requires a sharp mind and clear concentration to grasp the threads and start to unravel the hidden secrets and depths. As a narrator, Anna cannot be particularly relied on to tell the truth: she suffers from strange hallucinations and occasional black-outs. The various excerpts, likewise, suffer from the individual bias of their authors, thus leaving the reader to seek the answers between the lines.
Early on, the story feels somewhat rambling, but the tension soon begins to mount, crescendoing into a dark and brutal climax.
Unfortunately, I lacked the sustained concentration this book required. Whilst the main character, Anna, was relatively well-developed, I found it hard to empathise with her. The changing of the narrators/point of view every few chapters kept throwing me off (I tend to read in short chunks), and it was only when the danger came pressing a little too close for comfort, that I become fully enmeshed in Anna’s plight. Otherwise, I was more-or-less confused, and a bit bored, for the majority of the tale. It would probably benefit from a second reading.
The market for this book is anybody who enjoys a literary mystery, with a hint of history: but I, unfortunately, am not this market! Now, back to my pulp fiction.
Reviewed by Angela Oliver
The Serpent Papers
by Jessica Cornwell
Published by Quercus