Claire Benning is a damaged, isolated and almost monastic veterinary wildlife surgeon. The organization she works at rehabilitates injured and sick wildlife, and she spends her days saving everyone from badgers to roe deer. When a neighbor in her tiny village dies of snakebite, Claire is asked in for a consult as the local snake expert. She finds the victim has died of the snake venom, but of much higher concentrations than is possible from one snake. As it becomes apparent that a human, not a snake, is the cause of death, more snakes appear and more attacks ensue. Joining with a local constabulary and an eccentric world-renowned snake expert, Claire strives to discover who is behind these attacks as people continue to die.
S.J. Bolton’s second novel, Awakening caught my interest from page one. Bolton manages to build her characters slowly, the same way we get to know people in our lives. We find out the reason for Claire’s reclusiveness quite early on, but the cause isn’t given to us until much further into the book. Claire’s relationships with those around her, her dogged determination to remain aloof and alone, and the slow eroding of those walls she’s built around herself are a cornerstone of this book. While the title, Awakening, leads us to believe it refers to the behavior of the snakes, it also refers to Claire herself. The author does a bang-up job of incorporating into the story the practices of a little known sect of snake handlers in the United States, and the background information regarding them is delivered to the reader perfectly. Bolton knows that people are nuts and often truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction.
Lots of snakes figure in the book, and I know snakes can creep a lot of people out. But nevertheless, this is a great mystery. Oh, I’m such a Smarty-Pants; I had the whole plot figured out by about page 153. I was dead wrong, but until the last couple of chapters, I was feeling pretty smug. And I do so love being wrong when it comes to the ending of a book.
S.J. Bolton was an author that I’m not familiar with. But I’ll be picking up her first novel, Sacrifice and adding it to my teetering tower of “To Be Read” books on my next trip to the bookstore.