We should all send a note of appreciation to Elaine Kerley of
Newport, Kentucky. In the acknowledgments at the close of A GARDEN
OF VIPERS, Jack Kerley's latest and greatest installment in his
series featuring Mobile police investigators Carson Ryder and Harry
Nautilus, Kerley thanks his wife for urging him to leave the
advertising industry and begin writing. If not for such
encouragement, we might not have one of the finest thriller series
currently being written.
Kerley has demonstrated a talent that runs deep and true. Ryder and
Nautilus are an unlikely team of police investigators whose
professional relationship and personal friendship rings with a real
A GARDEN OF VIPERS initially centers on the investigation by Ryder
and Nautilus of the brutal murder of a radio newswoman who,
interestingly enough, has some ties to Dani Danbury, Ryder's
significant other. Some additional incidents, including another
horrendous murder, indicate the presence of a homicidal maniac in
Mobile. Both Ryder and Nautilus are distracted by the revelations
of personal betrayals --- Nautilus from the past, Ryder from the
present --- that have a common source in Buck Kincannon, eldest son
of a rich and powerful local family whose influence extends beyond
the local environs.
The trail of the murders lead not only to the murky background of
Kincannon family secrets but also to previously unknown and untold
incidents in the past that threaten to be revealed by Nautilus and
Ryder's investigation. As the two men come inexorably closer to the
truth, they find themselves in danger from separate sources with a
With regard to the latter point, the always masterful Kerley
utilizes an interesting plot device at the book's conclusion. By
putting his detectives in separate dilemmas in which each is unable
to assist the other, he provides two surprise conclusions with
multiple revelations. This is not smoke and mirrors, either.
Kerley's literary style remains first-rate, with his descriptions
--- whether of scenery or of heartbreak --- so sharp and clear as
to be almost painful in their beauty.
While the focus of A GARDEN OF VIPERS is primarily on Ryder, the
equal billing that Ryder and Nautilus receive remains applicable.
Nautilus arguably is the more interesting of the two at this point,
being a bit more enigmatic, and further exploration of his personal
life in the next volume of this most worthy series certainly would
not be cause for complaint. With respect to Ryder, A GARDEN OF
VIPERS certainly provides more grist for Kerley to grind in a
future book. If you haven't jumped on this series yet, this is the
novel and now is the time.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011