Sunday, November 25, 2012

Re-Kindling Interest: Serpent Girl by Ray Garton (horror novella)

This is one of a series of reviews focusing on out-of-print works that have become available again via a variety of e-book formats.

Newly retired from his well-paying job, Steven Benedetti decides to celebrate with a visit to the carnival. There he meets Elise, the Serpent Girl (she dances with snakes), herself newly unemployed due to a fight with her boss/lover. Elise (whose real name is Carmen Mattox) and Benedetti subsequently hit the road together, spending the night in a roadside motel where they share their bodies and their histories — but not their secrets. That comes later; pieces slowly reveal themselves as the couple have a lot of sex and begin to think they're perfect for each other.

Author Ray Garton is probably best known as a writer of horror fiction (The New Neighbor, Live Girls), but Serpent Girl, originally one of his long line of books from Cemetery Dance Publications, seems to display the influence of the hardboiled crime novels and films of the 1940s and '50s: to wit, the beautiful woman whom trouble seems to follow and the world-weary man who is so attracted to her that he doesn't realize what he's gotten into until very late in the game. Steven and Elise fit their roles well, but each has a little secret in store for the other.

This blend of sex, horror, and crime fiction (I like to call it "erotic noirror," but your mileage may vary) plays to Garton's strengths: creative plots and the rare ability to know when to paint with broad strokes and when to be more detailed. Serpent Girl certainly has its flaws (conversations that border on the tedious, two-dimensional characters, and an abrupt ending), but they don't keep this novella from pulling the reader through to the somewhat unexpected conclusion. Its menacing foreshadowing alone would guarantee that, even if Garton didn't have a couple of surprises up his sleeve.

Garton's longtime fans will definitely be satisfied by Serpent Girl, and those concerned that he might be devoting himself to crime fiction entirely can be assuaged by his recent werewolf novel Ravenous (and its sequel, Bestial). Those, however, wanting more of this direction of the author's work should seek out his two books originally published under the pseudonym Arthur Darknell and now out under his own: Loveless and Murder Was My Alibi.

This review is an updated and revised version of the one that originally appeared in The Green Man Review in 2008. Reprinted with permission.

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