Book Review – When the Serpent Bites by Nesly Clerge

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I’ve been blogging since September 2011 and I’ve been on Instagram since December 2014. I don’t think it’s too big-headed to say that I’ve improved in both areas since then even if I’m still a bit shit at sticking to my schedules occasionally. In the last 7 years, I’ve managed to keep my online persona fairly secret and it’s only recently that people in my life started to find out about it. It kind of feels like I’m a superhero and everyone has suddenly seen through my secret identity. It’s weird to have it out there even though it’s still only a select group of people who know. It’s one thing to write for strangers (or nobody) but the idea of someone I see on a daily basis reading it… still can’t deal with that. I only bring this up because one of my work friends was so impressed with my Instagram following that she started talking about how much money I could make. I was super quick to shoot her down on this idea because I’m still a small fish in a fucking huge pond. Although, after spending years trying but never quite succeeding as much as I wanted to, I can’t deny that things are starting to change for the better. In the last few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to be approached by authors to get involved in marketing their books. You’ll be aware that earlier this month I was involved in the cover reveal of the upcoming Above the Stars book and I was also sent an advanced copy of Your Creative Career by Anna Sabino to share on Instagram. I realise that I still have some way to go before the big gun publishers would even think about approaching me but, as someone who is interested in getting into the marketing world, this is a fairly big deal. In keeping with this, two weeks ago I was given the opportunity to review the 2015 debut novel of writer Nesly Clerge. I said yes, because I’m not really in a position to turn these chances down, but I wasn’t sure this novel was going to be for me.

As many of my past reviews will tell you, I’m not always a big fan of crime thrillers and psychological thrillers. Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train just left me cold and bored. These books are becoming so predictable and over-the-top that I just don’t want to read them. Everyone is claiming to be the next big thing but, more often than not, they’re just exactly the same (if not worse) than the one before it. However, When the Serpent Bites was at least a tad different. It didn’t involve the investigation of a crime but the aftermath of one. Having lost his family and dealing with lots of emotional issues, rich CEO Frederick Starks is sent to prison for attacking his wife’s former lover. Starks is used to having complete control over his professional life so the sudden change in status is something that he finds difficult to deal with. Not long into his stay, he has a violent run-in with the dangerous leader of a powerful prison gang. Sent to the SHU, Starks realises that as soon as he’s back in the general population his life will be in danger and is desperate to avoid getting killed. Can Starks use his cunning and a hefty bank balance to rise to the top?

I was surprised by how quickly I got into this book. It’s a testament to Nesly Clerge’s writing that I became engrossed with this book after only a few pages. He has a great deal of confidence for a debut writer and manages to write a convincing and complex main character. Clerge has a bachelor’s degree in physiology and neurobiology and it is something that really comes across in the novel. Starks is an interesting character and, as he works through his emotional issues with the prison psychologist, you can see Clerge’s knowledge shining through. Starks isn’t a good guy or someone you’d want to be friends with. He’s stubborn, egotistical, sexist, plagued by a need to have control, and suffers from grandiose delusions. Despite having numerous affairs, Starks is unable to blame the break-up of his marriage on anyone but his wife. So, yeah, our protagonist isn’t the kind of guy you’d want to spend any time with but he feels real.

More real than the host of supporting characters that pass through his life but that is simply because we don’t get the chance to know them too well. His therapist, best friend Jeremy and ex-wife Kayla feel as though they are starting to be fleshed out and have been given thin storylines of their own. It’s just that the novel is so focused on Starks himself that these feel a little forgettable. It’s possible the following books will further explore these characters but, for now, its clear everyone else is just here to further Stark’s narrative. A narrative which moves at a mile a minute. Seriously, there is so much happening in this book that it gets a bit crazy. We don’t really get the chance to recover from one big event before the next one happens. There isn’t really much idea of timeline so either this is all happening in a matter of weeks or it’s all just a bit rushed. I’d have preferred things to go a bit slower to give everything time to build.

Although, that’s not to say that I disliked the book. It is very well written and will keep readers engaged. The chapters are relatively short and, doing something I want to refer to as ‘Dan Browning’, there are plenty of cliff-hangers to keep you moving forward. It’s an incredibly readable book and an entertaining one. I wasn’t expecting to think much of it but found myself pleasantly surprised. If I have one quibble, it would probably be the length. I’m not entirely sure I needed the many chapters the described the courtroom proceedings considering we already knew Starks was heading to prison. There is a lot crammed into this book and it means a lot of key and interesting events are glossed over in favour of others. This isn’t a slow-burning narrative but a runaway train. It made it easy to read but it felt like the whole novel lacked depth. I would also say that the final big revelation was pretty obvious but I can’t say that really diminished my reading. This is an interesting novel concerning the consequences of our actions. Admittedly those consequences are over-the-top and super melodramatic but there is a solid grounding here. I’m not necessarily going to pick up the sequel immediately but I’d probably give it a chance.

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