I don't read as much crime as I do, say, horror or sci-fi, but even so, I can't imagine there are too many crime novels quite like A Serpent Uncoiled. For one thing the writing is brash and funny, full of urban wit and cynical humour, but most especially because, well, because of its theme - death by chakras!
Chakra is a Sanskrit term that means 'wheel', and the chakras referred to here, are the seven centres of the subtle energy body as described in the practice of yoga and other Eastern Traditions. The chakras, along with various New Age ideas and spiritualist practices are all an integral part of A Serpent Uncoiled. The titular serpent being a reference to the raising of Kundalini energy, which is described in yoga and Vedanta as being a serpent coiled at the base of the spine. All of this gives the book a very unique flavour. Spurrier has done an excellent job of crafting a plot in which these themes are totally crucial. They are not just tacked on to the story to give it a bit of colour, they are completely fundamental.
Main man, Dan Shaper is an excellent lead, and I love that he has experiences the nature of which you're not always clear about - this is a man who's had a near mental breakdown previously, and who takes any kind of chemical hit he can get his hands on - so that for the most part, all the New Age nonsense is presented as exactly that, but there are also hints that perhaps something more substantive could be occurring. A fact which keeps you guessing as far as the plot is concerned, but which also adds a cool element of nuance and mystery by itself. I also totally enjoyed the writing of Shaper, his inner dialogue had me chuckling away to myself on numerous occasions.
All of the supporting characters are interesting and stand out on their own. There are none that seem in any way superfluous, except perhaps one, but this one is actually my favourite. Now, I have a 'thing' for small critters in films and books, especially ones that provide humour with their nonchalance towards the actions of the main protagonist. You know the kind? The various bug-eyed, exasperated animal side kicks, that populate Disney films for example. Anyway, little things like this amuse me, and so it is with Ziggy in A Serpent Uncoiled. Ziggy is a lizard that roams around Shaper's apartment, and does nothing other than be a Lizard and wear a look of contempt for everything that Shaper feels or does - and I loved him for it.
Aside from the characters, the depiction of London and its nefarious haunts is thoroughly convincing. The elements of the underworld, the various spiritual traditions, all of it feels authentic despite being a deliberate caricature a lot of the time. Spurrier has clearly done his research, and it shows. A Serpent Uncoiled is original and written with great verve. The plot twists and turns and keeps you guessing just as a classic private eye novel should. The murders are gruesome too, so those that enjoy the darker side of crime fiction should be more than happy. Imagine an early Guy Ritchie film fell into a vat of evil hippy shenanigans and you're close to picturing the kind of tale told here. Smart, funny, and highly recommended - go read it!show more
by Samuel Clarke