The Snakes

Sadie Jones

Published by Chatto & Windus 7 March 2019

448pp, hardback, £14.99

Reviewed by Alison Burns

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Whether or not the echo is intended, this latest novel by Sadie Jones recalls the subject matter of François Mauriac’s classic story about inheritance, Le Noeud de Viperes. Atmospheric, suspenseful and very well calculated for a future screen version, The Snakes looks at the damage caused by money-lust to the various members of a well-heeled London family, the Adamsons.

Griff, the bullying father, is a magnate who made his money as a slum landlord.Liv, his brittle wife, has lived with a secret so corrupt that she repels her idealist daughter, Bea.  Bea’s brother, Alex, a recovering addict, has been parked in Burgundy, where he manages a semi-derelict hotel owned by his father.

Bea and her husband Dan take time out from their inner-city jobs for a road trip to Italy, calling in on Alex en route.  They find a dismal scene. Alex has been faking entries in the guest-book, failing to get on with basic hotel maintenance, living in a daze. One of the few things he takes care of are the snake traps in the roof.  Before Bea and Dan have time to take all this in, Griff and Liv arrive for what looks like a routine inspection.  Soon, there is a fatal car crash, and then a murder enquiry.

This is a novel full of mental as well as of physical violence, in which one man stands out.  Griff’s quick-fire put-downs of everyone around him are contemptuous, deliberately unmanning. The cold elegance and comfort of his expensive London home, his impeccable travel arrangements, his retinue of lawyers and fixers, are accompanied by the icy entitlement and easy cruelty of the self-made man.  He has his own greedy secrets, too, and in the end these will bring the whole family down.

Sadie Jones’s first novel, The Outcast, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize.  Her second, Small Wars, was longlisted for the Orange Prize.  Two others followed, The Uninvited Guests and Fallout.  This is her first contemporary novel.

With its graphic luxury and squalor, its scary characters and its grasp of psychology, The Snakes looks ideal for development into a TV series comparable with The Killing.

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