WHERE SERPENTS LIE is a complex thriller straight out of the black
heart of present-day sunny Southern California, where both the
author and his protagonist reside. Terry Naughton (the protagonist)
is head of the Crimes Against Youth unit of the Orange County
Sheriff Department. He is also the grieving father of a boy who
died two years before the story opens; the boy's death haunts and
drives Naughton's life, and therefore this book, which Naughton
narrates in first person.
The CAY unit is in pursuit of a serial child kidnapper who has not,
so far, physically harmed his victims, all female and all from five
to seven years old; moreover, there is a suggestion that there may
have been other victims in other states. The kidnapper has named
himself, for the titillation of the law officers and the general
public, The Horridus. Soon after the book opens, Terry Naughton
learns that a "horridus" is a kind of snake: the Latin name for a
timber rattler is "horridus horridus." The main point of the
investigation is to identify and capture The Horridus before his
so-far-fairly-harmless activities escalate and he kills a
Ah, but just how harmless is it really to kidnap a child, and dress
her up, and take pictures and sell them on the Internet to a bunch
of slimy pedophiles? (The people in this book are a lot slimier
than the snakes --- and yes, there are snakes.) This is a question
that will be thoroughly explored over more than 500 pages. Some
readers in the course of it may begin to wonder if there is such a
thing as gratuitous psychological violence.
Terry Naughton is a flawed hero --- his flaws are meant to engage
our sympathies and to give us an understanding of his deepest
motivations. He has suffered a tragedy, and he pays for it all over
again in a subplot that becomes equally as riveting as the main
plot, which of course is about bringing The Horridus down. There
are subtle parallels between main plot and subplot, a kind of
sinuous interweaving (more snake stuff), and mirroring of behavior
(more psychological stuff) between tragically flawed hero and
irretrievably damaged villain. It's well done, yes, but don't
forget: this is Southern California culture we're dealing with
here, where violence becomes entertainment, not catharsis.
Thoughtful readers may want to ponder where the line between the
two may lie, and will find good material for it here.
WHERE SERPENTS LIE will take its readers on a long, twisting,
unsettling ride --- and even when the nightmare roller coaster
seems to have come to an end, be careful how you get off --- a
couple of real zingers await, all the way to the final page. T.
Jefferson Parker has crafted here a powerful thriller, hailed by
the publisher and many reviewers as his breakout book. This fact
alone will encourage those who missed the hardcover version last
year to pick it up in paperback.
Where Serpents Lie