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The Shape of Snakes


The Shape of Snakes

Minette Walters's THE SHAPE OF SNAKES breaks many of the
conventional rules of fiction. Part murder mystery, part scathing
social commentary, the novel will draw readers in at the same time
it may confound them. The main narrator is called only M. She is a
mother, wife, and teacher, but the reader knows little else about
her. Much of the plot deals with M's attempts to get to the bottom
of the death of a local homeless woman named Annie. In fact, other
than her drive to seek Annie's murderer, M's desire to live would
have faded. Toward the onset of the novel, her obsession with Annie
is confusing, the motive unknown. M never spoke to Annie. She never
even gave the homeless woman the time of day, assiduously avoiding
her, as did most people in the neighborhood. However, as the story
plays out, M becomes larger than the novel, a woman of insight and

M's drive uncovers liars, thieves, and deception at all levels.
Thrills propel the story home, as M never fails the reader in
uncovering Annie's suffering. All of the characters are so entwined
that the neighborhood would cease to exist without their

Annie, whose life was as mysterious as her death, is a character
unfortunately familiar to many city dwellers. Spouting obscenities,
Annie staggered about the streets of Dorchester, England, attacking
all she encountered. The people of the neighborhood labeled her
mentally retarded, since she talked to herself, not realizing she
had Tourette's syndrome and coprolalia, the uncontrolled, excessive
use of profanity. Doubly damned by the fact that she was black,
Annie was cruelly taunted by some narrow minded locals, while
others, more "civic minded," tried to have her taken off the

One fateful evening, Annie arrived in the gutter of M's house,
battered, beaten and smelling of urine. Believing Annie to be
drunk, the neighbors were disgusted and avoided her, even as she
lay dying. As the facts of Annie's death came to light, M proceeded
to accuse the neighbors of a racially motivated murder. M's husband
Sam failed to be supportive, believing M was having a traumatic
stress response. Things only got worse for M: she began having
aural hallucinations, fighting with her family and friends and just
generally not knowing what was real and what was not. Upon threat
of divorce, M moved away with her husband and vowed never to speak
of Annie again.

Twenty years later, M is still haunted by Annie's death and driven
to find justice, justice for a murder and vindication for herself.
She delves deeper, finding out that Annie was not the homeless,
mentally incapacitated woman of popular belief. Instead, she had a
house of her own, one filled with many valuables.

Driven to her truth and unable to stop, M investigates. As the
author breaks the rules of fiction, her character-driven story
rides forth on a thrill packed adventure.

Reviewed by Nancy B. Leake on January 23, 2011

The Shape of Snakes
by Minette Walters

  • Publication Date: June 4, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Jove
  • ISBN-10: 051513306X
  • ISBN-13: 9780515133066