Snake Agent

by Liz Williams, © 2005, Night Shade Books 2008, mass market paperback, 284 Pages $7.99
ISBN 978-1-59780-107-2

Cover by Jon Foster

First in the Detective Inspector Chen series

The cross-genre novel has been gaining momentum with readers for several years and I’ve been sampling some of them recently. Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s excellent SF-mystery The Disappeared was reviewed on this blog recently and here is another fine example of how gripping and enjoyable a well written crossover can be.

This is a police procedural, though Detective Inspector Chen uses his rosary more then he flashes his badge in an occult-horror novel that has enough occult elements to satisfy dark fantasy readers.

Chen is the Singapore Three police department’s snake agent, in charge of supernatural and mystical investigations. In a classic P.I. situation, Chen is asked to interview a wealthy woman who wants him to find her missing daughter. Why is Chen given the case? Because something about this one just feels wrong, and it soon proves to be true when the girl’s ghost appears, then the mother is possessed, then killed.

Chen has several problems: His colleagues don’t trust him and his mystical ways, he has offended his patron goddess who protects and empowers him, and he has troubles at home. Used to working alone, he’s not happy to be assigned a partner especially since it’s one of Hell’s own vice officers, Seneschal Zhu Irzh, in our world to investigate the illegal trade in souls.

As the case progresses, danger and political pressures both earthly and otherworldly increase. The investigation is blocked at every turn. When a high-level plot is revealed, it becomes obvious – perhaps too late – that the stakes are higher than anyone had previously suspected.

All this may sound like an unlikely premise for a novel, but Williams makes it work, and work well. When I bought the book, after reading the blurb on the publisher’s website (here) I thought that sounds like something interesting and boy, was I right. This one kept me up late turning pages, and I grew to enjoy the characters while marveling at Williams’ ability to invent and describe a Hell unlike any in my previous experience as a reader. Dante’s Hell this is not, and that’s a good thing, for both the characters and the reader. This is good stuff.

The series now has four entries and a fifth due next month:  1.  Snake Agent   2. The Demon and the City   3. Precious Dragon   4. The Shadow Pavilion   5. The Iron Khan (February 2010)

Night Shade Press certainly deserves credit for publishing this series and many other interesting books in a variety of genres and cross-genres. NSP is one of the best small presses today.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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8 Responses to Snake Agent

  1. Bill Crider says:

    Sounds good, all right.

  2. Patti Abbott says:

    Yes, I love the idea of crossing genres. Pretty soon, we may have to discard them entirely and just call any fiction piece over 120 pages a novel.

  3. Richard says:

    Bill – it is good, better than I had any right to expect for a pretty much blind pick off the publisher’s shelf though I did make sure it was the first in the series and the blurb intrigued me.

    Patti – That’s an interesting idea. I don’t think, in reality, genre labels will go away, but there will be more of this kind of thing as authors decide not to be held within any boundaries a specific genre may impose.

  4. George Kelley says:

    I became a fan of Liz Williams’ work last year when I read THE POISON MASTER. She has been strongly influenced by Jack Vance. My review of SNAKE AGENT will appear tomorrow.

  5. Richard says:

    George – I’m sorry if I trumped you on this book, neither of us could have known the other was reading it. No problem with more publicity for a good, interesting book!

  6. George Kelley says:

    Great minds think alike, Rick. It had to happen that we would both be reading the same book at the same time and that our reviews would appear roughly at the same time. In fact, if it wasn’t for the DINERS, DRIVE-INS & DIVES episode, I would have posted my SNAKE AGENT review today.

  7. Carl V. says:

    Night Shade is a really great press, and they have some wonderful cover art for their books, most especially for this series. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I too thought that it sounded like something that might not work and yet Williams ties all the elements together so well. I really got a kick out of the relationships between the characters and was very intrigued by Chen’s wife, among others.

  8. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Between you and George I can see I’m going to have to try this one too.

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