Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book review: The Serpent Bearer, by Frank Say


If you love delving into mystery, murder and the occult, Frank Say’s The Serpent Bearer is well worth while. Using New Orleans to full and realistic advantage, Say introduces Sydney Monroe, her grandmother, her sister, and the Saintclair family as fully developed and relatable characters.  The young and gifted Sydney tells the story; the uptight grandmother (whom we somehow instinctively love) is the one who volunteers Sydney’s psychic services to the mysteriously troubled Saintclairs.

Say is a wonderfully descriptive and atmospheric writer, and his dialog flows with natural ease. In The Serpent Bearer, he deals with the occult as a natural phenomenon – nothing particularly spooky about it. Say, in fact, goes into some well-researched detail on shamanism and psychic dreams.

This second title in the Lake Pontchartrain Mysteries is certainly as involving and suspenseful as his first. Where The Serpent Bearer differs from the dark and other-worldly Nine Lives is that it’s more sympathetic (a la Ray Bradbury) and less horrifying (a la Stephen King). But it still gets you. I must mention here that the cover, featuring original art by Laura Sprunk, is quite striking.

There is a caveat, a big one, which has nothing to do with Say’s masterful story telling. I was wary at the outset when I had to order the book through Lulu, a vanity press. Sure enough, trouble started on the front flap of the dust jacket: a paragraph cut off mid-sentence. The entire narrative was fraught with misused words, misspellings, and punctuation errors. One chapter abruptly ends in mid-sentence just as the sisters are about to try giving a pitifully frightened little dog his meds. If I hadn't been reading it so late at night I would've called Frank to find out what happened! An editor is credited on the opening pages. Where was she? Didn’t Frank get a chance to look over a galley proof before the book went to press? There’s no way his master’s thesis was presented in such a state!


I will certainly continue to follow the Lake Pontchartrain Mysteries. But I gotta tell ya: Frank Say’s talent deserves better treatment.

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