Thursday, September 1, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: A Serpent Uncoiled

Title: A Serpent Uncoiled

Author: Simon Spurrier

Publisher: Headline

RRP: $32.99

ISBN: 9780755335923

Release Date: Sept 2011

Pages: 416


A crime novel with a twist. A wry, witty and utterly unique take on the classic private eye novel from exciting young author Simon Spurrier.

Dan Shaper's sins are a sickness.

Working as a fixer in London's criminal underworld has brought him to the edge of breakdown, and the drugs don't bury the nightmares like they used to. He needs to straighten-up and rebuild his life, but instead gets the attention of his old gangland masters and a job-offer from George Glass: an eccentric old man convinced he's secretly an ancient Messiah. Normally Shaper would recoil from Glass's senile brand of New Age salvation, but the case is as tantalising as it is lucrative:

A missing mobster. A bizarre spiritualist society. Three accidental deaths, unconnected but for a chilling forensic detail. And a note:

"You're on a list."

Adrift amidst liars and thugs, Shaper must push his capsizing mind beyond its limits: stalked not only by a unique and terrifying murderer, but by the ghosts of his own brutal past.


Simon Spurrier was born in 1981. A graduate from S.I.A.D's Film and Television degree course, he's received screenwriting bursaries at both the National Academy of Writing and the Met Film School, and has worked with the BBC as an Art Director. He's since become an award-winning graphic novelist - writing for Marvel, D.C. and 2000AD - and has penned several licensed prose novels.

He lives in North London and is active in online and new-media communities. Visit for more, or follow him on twitter: @sispurrier.

Previous Books:

Contract (B fmt, 01/08).


Dan Shaper, the protagonist of A Serpent Uncoiled (2011), is a "fixer". The sort of jack of all trades, no-problem-too-hard-ass problem-solver that's familiar to readers of F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack or Lee Child's Jack Reacher. Shaper was once connected to one of London's dominant crime families, but, as of the start of the book, is eking out a sorry career as a freelancer - catching petty thieves in brothels. He's not a "bad guy", but he is a grimly amoral realist that's seen enough of the world to understand how things really work. Not quite an outsider, as his profession insists that he maintain his connections in the system.

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.

The other factor that makes A Serpent Uncoiled unique is Shaper. The mystery at the heart of this book is compelling, but Shaper makes it special. He's funny, wry, vulnerable and damaged and needs to redeem himself in his own eyes. Glass offers him that opportunity and sets something in motion that will change Shaper's life. Through meeting Mary, Glass' assistant in his efforts to remember his past, Shaper's broken heart starts to mend, not very fast, but at long last the wounds are starting to scab over. He finally detoxes, not his usual three day detox-jojo routine, but truly detoxing. He deals with his past, in the form of the Corams and in the process sets himself free to move on to his own fate. If the book doesn't exactly end on a happy note, it does leave one hopeful for Shaper's future.

Spurrier's writing is intricate and deliberate. He scorns neither profanity nor complex words and seems to expect the reader to be smart enough to keep up with his strange vision. In this manner he weaves not just a classic noir crime novel, but a tale of a man twisting free of his past which is as memorable as it is dryly funny.

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