A 20 year obsession with solving a murder no one else seems to care about.
Minette Walters is as much exterminator as novelist. With uncomfortable accuracy, her novels bring to the surface those creepy, crawly parts of the human psyche that most of us would rather keep hidden. Articulate, clever, and acutely observant, she eschews the standard trappings of psychological suspense and presents characters both vulnerable and deeply unpleasant.
Twenty years ago, M. Ranelagh found her Graham Road neighbor dying in a gutter. "Mad Annie" Butts, long persecuted for being black and for suffering from Tourette's syndrome, had had her skull shattered. So deeply did Annie's death--ruled an accident--affect M. that she has spent the last two decades secretly amassing proof that it was murder, and that the murderer lived in Graham Road. Her collection of evidence faithfully teases out the serpentine deceptions--and self-deceptions--woven into Annie's death; husband Sam, neighbors, friends, family, police, all are grist for the mill of M.'s occasionally unscrupulous research:
I suppose everyone has a pet subject that triggers their anger--with me it was my mother's wicked talent for stirring, with Sam it was his fear of Mad Annie and everything her death represented: the mask of respectability that overlaid the hatreds and the lies. He always hoped, I think, in a rather free interpretation of the karma principle, that if he refused to look beneath a surface then the surface was the reality. But he could never rid himself of the fear that he was wrong.
Although M.'s investigations focus on her neighbors (who range from eccentric to downright evil), they reveal just as much about her. Crafty, manipulative, and seething with rage, she carefully constructs her revenge on an unidentified murderer--and, one suspects, on the frustrations and limitations that define her own life.
The Shape of Snakes is both a gripping thriller and a stunning novel. Don't be surprised if it works its way into your library of favorites.
I enjoyed this novel, although it wasn't my favorite by Minette Walters. Surprisingly, I was put off a little by the evidence in the novel that appeared in the form of letters, pictures, documents, etc. At first it was interesting and fun, but I grew tired of it after awhile. I also felt that having the novel written in first person from Mrs Ranelagh's point of view was a poor choice considering the depth of its plot. Like I said, not my favorite book by Walters, but enjoyable all the same!