Putnam, Jul 2001, 24.95, 384 pp.
In 1978 England, schoolteacher, M Raneleigh finds her neighbor Ann Butts dying in the street. M believes someone murdered “Mad Annie”, the only black person in the neighborhood. The police insist this was a hit and run in which the driver never knew they hit Mad Annie due to the nasty weather. Though Annie once called her a honky and was often seen talking to herself, M still feels something isn't Kosher about Annie's death. In her efforts to find out the truth, M becomes agoraphobic, anorexic, and a rift with her husband Sam occurs.
Not long afterward, the Raneleighs reconcile and head overseas for the next two decades. When Sam suffers a heart attack, the Raneleighs, accompanied by their two teenage sons, return home. When M meets Annie's former doctor, Sheila Arnold, her interest resurfaces because she still believes that a homicide occurred. Sheila informs her that Ann was a nice person suffering from Tourette's Syndrome but kept a neat home with many valuable items inside. This goes against what the police report say about Annie living in squalor-like conditions. The doctor was in America when Ann died. M tries to rekindle interest in a closed case with no one else wanting it open.
THE SHAPE OF SNAKES is a superb mystery that centers on the characters who feel very genuine in 1978 and two decades later. The ignorance towards Tourette's Syndrome and the bias towards blacks are cleverly included in M's “investigation.” which is why Annie's disease and race make it easier to whitewash the case. Minette Walters keeps the audience guessing as to whether it was murder or an accident and that is the reason this literary mystery is a one sitting read.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner