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The Shape of Snakes by Minette Walters
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The Shape of Snakes (2000)

by Minette Walters

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1,114147,413 (3.58)17
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A knockout psychological thriller. In November 1978 a spinster black woman with Tourette's syndrome, Mad Annie, was murdered in the shabby West London terrace where she lived and where she was habitually persecuted by the neighbourhood kids and adults alike. Only Margaret Ranelagh, the young local wife who discovered her, seemed interested in doing anything more about the crime than sweeping it under the carpet as swiftly as possible . . . and for her persistence she has paid with social, mental and marital upheavals, having had to spend the past couple of decades abroad. But now she's back, and she wants to extract justice for Mad Annie by, despite the fierce hostility of others involved, raking over the near-dead coals of the case and bringing uncomfortable truths to light. The title refers to that fact that, deliciously, all through the telling of this longish and complex tale, the shape of this history's plot (i.e., what we think was the real story behind Mad Annie's death) is, like that of a snake, constantly changing as we discover more and more about the characters involved, being put in the position of frequently having to reevaluate them as we uncover further details of their nature and past behaviour. This is a beautifully told story, with strong characterization, impeccable pacing, and a powerful narrative drive. ( )
  JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
Only read a third.
  JG3136 | Aug 6, 2011 |
The first book iIhave read by this author. I thought her style was quite good. But I was appalled by the explicit animal cruelty - it was really not necessary to the plot and purposely stopped reading whenever I sensed some horrible description was going to occur. I don't need to have nightmares from my reading. I'll probably read other books by this author since iIsense that she has exhausted this topic - at least I hope she has. ( )
  catarina1 | Dec 13, 2010 |
This is a very talky crime novel. A little too much, in my opinion, expository dialogue, and not enough action. (Although it must be admitted that the novel's flashback structure dictates this.)

Warning: Contains some vivid descriptions of extreme cruelty to cats.
  Scratch | Sep 22, 2010 |
I read this book until 2.30 am one night because I wanted to find out who did it. Like with other Minette WAlters books I was way off until very late and I just couldn't put it down. Unlike other books by the author this one affected me personally, though. I enjoyed everything I've read by her so far as mystery fiction that entertains - a little unusual, scary, creepy and a fairly graphical sometimes.

This book however affected me in a way none of the others did. I don't know if this is because it's written in first person. Or maybe because I can't bear the feeling of helplessness that sometimes overcomes me when confronted with injustice, racism, or sexism. Maybe it's a combination of those.
  verenka | Jun 17, 2010 |
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For John, Henry and Frank
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I could never decide whether "Mad Annie" was murdered because she was mad or because she was black.
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Book description
In 1978, a single black woman known locally as "Mad Annie" lies dying in the roadside. When a verdict of accidental death is recorded, residents of Graham Road, where she lived, breathe a collective sigh of relief. As far as they were concerned Annie Butts was a repellent alcoholic with a foul mouth. It is only Mrs Ranelagh, a young teacher who refuses to accept the court's decision. Something convinced her that Annie was murdered and 20 years later she returns from overseas with enough evidence to reopen the case.

Although the story is narrated by Mrs Ranelagh, the inclusion of much of the documentary evidence she has amassed including photographs, letters and e-mails, gives the reader the freedom to interpret characters and events for themselves. Motivation remains an endless source of fascination for Walters and the presence of several of Mrs Ranelagh's psychiatric reports, ensures that the reasons behind her commitment to the case also remain ambiguous.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0330373250, Paperback)

November 1978. Britain is on strike. The dead lie unburied, rubbish piles in the streets and somewhere is West London a black woman dies in a rain-soaked gutter. Her passing would have gone unmourned but for the young woman who finds her and who believes apparently against reason that Annie was murdered. But whatever the truth about Annie whether she was as mad as her neighbours claimed, whether she lived in squalor as the police said something passed between her and Mrs Ranelagh in the moment of death which binds this one woman to her cause for the next twenty years. But why is Mrs Ranelagh so convinced it was murder when by her own account Annie died without speaking? And why would any woman spend twenty painstaking years uncovering the truth unless her reasons are personal ...?

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:55:24 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Twenty years after stumbling upon a black woman--an unpopular recluse known as "Mad Annie"--dying in the gutter, Mrs. Ranelagh continues to believe that the woman had been murdered and tries to uncover the truth.

» see all 6 descriptions

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