Entries Tagged 'Ray Garton' ↓

Serpent Girl: a Horror Reader exclusive review

Gartonserpent Recently retired, Steven Benedetti is driving from Oregon to LA. En route, he passes a sign for a carnival and, out of nostalgia, stops to visit. There he attempts to revisit several boyhood pleasures but discovers that time has colored his perceptions. For a final lark, he decides to visit the Serpent Girl's tent, to watch a scantily clad doll dance with snakes. This is where he makes the acquaintance of Carmen. The dancing is forgettable, it's the girl he finds himself most interested in. After the show, while pondering just what he has seen, he discovers that the girl is in a spot of trouble. When he helps her out, the two of them hit the road together. What follows is a twisted journey south, in which the reader soon discovers that our narrator has a mysterious past and this girl he is infatuated with might have more going on in her heart than she lets on. They complement each other so well, one might go so far as to call them a killer couple.

As this novel comes in under 150 pages, it spends only a little time establishing the characters while bouncing between the conventions of no less than four genres. One part crime story, one part mystery, one part road story, and culminating in an outrageous finale and a chilling denouement of purest horror. The result is dark, nasty, and (regrettably) short.

Serpent Girl owes a lot to the Fawcett Gold Medal thrillers that have inspired quite a few writers of dark crime and horror (and are even being revisited by the Hard Case Crime line of reprints and originals). It's the kind of twisty story that feels right at home in the confines of a cheap paperback, and yet this is no simple pastiche.  It is a modern spin, a literary descendant, which features plenty of graphic sex. Some readers might say it does so in lieu of plot or characterization, but those readers are selling the story a bit short.

There is character development here, but it seems oddly circular and it is certainly subtle. The characters seemingly grow in spite of themselves, and the work is less concerned with the stuff of internal character development via thought/epiphany than it is with character as defined by action. In fact, while the book deals with some gruesome subject matter, it is ultimately interested in questions of character.  Can a person who has performed dreadful deeds for a job and a person who has performed those a similar sort of dreadful deeds for pleasure can ever truly see eye to eye? Can they ever get along? Can they ever leave their past and build something else?

It is here that the meat of the work is revealed, and in searching out these answers the book delves into some grim but fascinating places. Serpent Girl, while certainly a quick read, is one worth consideration from lovers of dark crime fiction and human based horrors.

This reader certainly hopes that a reasonably priced edition may become available down the line for those who either cannot shell out forty dollars for a lovely enough (CD makes a great book, and artist Jill Bauman's cover art is both enticing and gorgeous) though ultimately short, limited edition, hardcover book.

Serpent Girl by Ray Garton

144 pages

Cemetery Dance

May 2008

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