Being belligerently bonkers doesn't occlude being brilliant...
A Serpent Uncoiled is an off-the-wall crime/supernatural/druggie-induced fug of a book, featuring the quasi-private eye, quasi-criminal: Dan Shaper. We meet him in a van sat outside a brothel dedicated to servicing the geriatrically-challenged with a set of headphones on, listening in on the assorted groans, moans and other sexual noises taking place within its walls, along with his sort-of side-kick, Vince. He’s not perving: he’s on a job – someone is nicking dear old Mrs Swanson’s rather expensive and difficult to source libido-raising product and Shaper has been hired to uncover the slippery character and put a stop to it. In doing so, Shaper’s been self-medicating: uppers to keep him alert and wired enough to burst into action should he need to; and downers to control the manic paranoia of the uppers. It’s a carefully orchestrated balancing act; one that Shaper is aware he is losing. He needs to detox, but not until the job is done.
The thing is: Shaper doesn’t get the chance. While the pilfering of the magical sex powder has been deftly eliminated, it’s only a matter of hours before he’s coerced into a seeing a wealthy old man. George Glass is the kind of eccentric old fogey that we Brits humour (and secretly admire). He’s adamant that he is three thousand years old fully believing in his carefully annotated ‘regressions’. Whether it is down to the psychedelic trippiness of the drugs Shaper’s on, he can’t tell; but the old man has a luminous aura tinged with violet and a perplexing, but welcome, ability to calm his chemically unstable mind. Coloured auras, however, are just the tip of the Eastern mysticism around which the plot rotates. Unable to detox as his body (and slightly mushed brain) requires; Shaper finds himself encumbered with the unfortunate task of unmasking (literally) a killer making his way down a list – a list that ends with taking the Sahasrara chakra.
Along the way, Spurrier presents us with a veritable feast of oddballs. There’s Mary, the (faking) clairvoyant with her clinic nestled around the financial bosom of the esoteric Mr Glass. Her synaptic-fried brother: Kyle. Sandra Glass, daughter to the bountiful Mr Glass, with her schizophrenic mood swings and mother to Freddie, a special needs kid with a congenital illness. A crew of sardonically nicknamed geezers (by Shaper), who work on behalf of the crazy gang family that Shaper used to be a part of; which brings us to the Corams themselves. The crazy gangster outfit made up of matronly (and mental) mother, Maud; insipid son, Dave and butch daughter, Phyllis. Shaper’s relationship with them is complex, to say the least… Finally, we have Vince: my personal favourite. He is a glorious anathema; a collision of unscrupulous hardened muscle and unguarded tenderness for his gay lover (despite laughably being ‘secretly’ bisexual).
A Serpent Uncoiled is a miasma of spiritual fakery, butt-clenching blackouts at the wheel of a van (explains a lot about van drivers), a big bad gangster with a peculiar dress sense and a penchant for stashing machetes down his back, an occult group experimenting on the human chakras and a whopper of a family skeleton (a secret, not a corpse). With gargantuan literary flourishes describing with relish the pulsating, endless throbbing headache of jittery nerves and paranoid hallucinations, the cumbersome nature of guilt and epic proportions of self loathing and sabotage; Spurrier evidently likes to roll his words around his mouth to test if they taste right before spitting them out onto the page. What you get are flashes of brilliance sodden by great gobs of wry humour, the internalised horrors of the junkie and the faint supposition that Shaper has “the Sight”, which makes Spurrier’s style dirtier, rougher and infinitely more fascinating.
We interview C J Daugherty about Night School
- 10 January 2012