The Serpentine Road
This is the first Paul Mendelson thriller I’ve read but it won’t be the last. In fact I might now have to dig out his debut, The First Rule of Survival. From what I gather the major protagonists remain the same, most notably the very prickly Colonel Vaughn de Vries. The good Colonel is not a particularly sympathetic figure. Abrasive, borderline racist, he’s a definite product of the poisonous legacy of Apartheid.
Like much South African crime writing, much of the writing to come out of that country full stop in fact, apartheid and its aftermath is a strong current throughout this book. With The Serpentine Road, this isn’t just true in terms of the plot itself, but the whole edifice: Vaughn de Vries personality, the racial tensions which bubble beneath the surface of much of the interactions between people of different ethnicities, the violence which blights communities, all would be unimaginable in any other contemporary setting.
The plot itself has two parts, a major plotline around the murder of a wealthy, white heiress, and a strong sub-plot around a killing in the dying days of apartheid. While both strands were strong, I have to say that I found the sub-plot the stronger of the two. I became much more interested in it’s outcome. Without giving too much away someone is out for revenge and is killing former South African police, sneaking into their houses and slaughtering them in their sleep. I found the resolution to this storyline far two easy for Colonel Vaughn, considering the skill with which the killer had been despatching their victims.
That said, this is a relatively minor criticism and I found the portrayal of present day South Africa and its underlying tension fertile territory. I would also applaud the author for not shying away from giving Vaughn attitudes that are frowned upon. People are flawed, not least our heroes, and should be portrayed as such in fiction.
I would give this book 5 out of 5 stars.