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Spotlight on: The Serpent's Kiss by Mark T Sullivan

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Buy The Serpent's Kiss by Mark T Sullivan Mark T. Sullivan, The Serpent's Kiss

Mark T. Sullivan has created a winner of a character in San Diego homicide detective Seamus Moynihan. He's complex and conflicted as all get-out--his family life is in a shambles, his career is on the line, and he's got a past that would haunt anybody. His father, also a police officer, was killed in the line of duty and Seamus broke a promise to his mother by also becoming a cop after a traumatic injury cut short his life with the Boston Red Sox. His ex-wife is moving on with another man, he is alienating his son, and he has difficulty with all his relationships. He doesn't always follow his own advice--the book would be shorter if he did--but then what real person does? In addition, he is an effective narrator and he lives on a boat like Travis McGee. All in all, Moynihan is one engaging character--although not always entirely believable (I mean, I like my heroes as flawed as the next guy, but Moynihan has enough for two characters). Sullivan plans to write a series of books starring "Shay" and, at the very least, this is a man we will not tire of visiting anytime soon.

The Serpent's Kiss, however, is another story. It's a riveting read--plenty of suspense, action, twist, and turns, as well as lots of different characters to keep us guessing to the identity of the murderer. Unfortunately, Sullivan attempts to lead his readers down a path that makes sense, then jettisons it at the last moment for a more sensationalist ending. The last quarter of the book--while gripping, informative, and quickly-paced--dampens the effect of the rest of the novel. Nevertheless, I was engrossed to the very end.

A string of sexually-related serial murders is the focus of the investigation. Peppered with the bites of various illegally obtained snakes (or "hot herps"), the victims are found with poisoned apples in their mouths (where's the Snow White angle?) and obscure literary/biblical references left at the scene. The search leads Moynihan and his partner/brother-in-law to the local reptile adventurer, Nick Foster, star of Cold Blooded (an obvious Crocodile Hunter parody) and his reluctant partner, zoologist Jan Hood. Also involved in the investigation is professor Susan Dahoney, author of a controversial book about the Lilith myth called The Second Woman. Both these women will provide keys to the eventual solution, but not before Moynihan gets involved with them romantically. And before long, Shay will get too close for comfort with several poisonous snakes, but at least his knowledge of them--courtesy of the investigation--will help him survive.

From the beginning, Sullivan leads his characters down the wrong path intentionally, all the while winking at his readers and letting us know he's in on it. This made it all too easy to guess the perpetrator's identity. Sullivan's prose is mostly invisible--perfect for this type of thriller--but there end up being too many subplots. He leads us running from location to location, trying too hard to make sure we're having a good time. After a while--just like on a rollercoaster--I'd had enough and was ready for it to be over.

In the end, I enjoyed The Serpent's Kiss very much, and will certainly be on the lookout for future Sullivan/Moynihan novels. I think that readers who are looking for a suspenseful ride will be very pleased with the novel and those who prefer their characters to be attractively flawed will enjoy keeping company with Moynihan. I recommend it with only these few reservations.

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