Whisky Magazine Issue 119
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The Shape of Snakes.... Snakes come in a very wide variety of shapes
We usually think of the sleuth as someone who goes chasing after the truth, but in fact the top literary sleuths – much like authors – are provocateurs who force the truth out of people reluctant to reveal it. A perfect example is Minette Walter's disturbingly excellent 2000 crime novel The Shape of Snakes.
Snakes is written in the first person, and the sleuth is a middle-aged woman named Mrs Ranelagh, but don't expect Miss Marple. Right from the opening words, Walters pulls no punches:
I could never decide whether ‘Mad Annie' was murdered because she was mad or because she was black….I remember my shock when I came home from work one wet November evening to find her collapsed in the gutter outside our house…If I hadn't recognised her old plaid coat I might have ignored her, thinking the bundle in the gutter was a heap of discarded clothes.
The time was 1978. Annie Potts
was the only black person living in a street in Southwest London, and she had Tourette's Syndrome as well, making her a double target for her neighbour's cruelty.
Although Annie's injuries clearly point to assault, racist police officials at the time found that she had been hit by a car. Mrs. Ranelagh protested, which only made the authorities, her neighbours and even her own family think that she had gone soft in the head.
Years later she is still enraged at what happened and returns to England from the Far East to set the record straight. That includes confronting the police detective who pres...