The Bottom Line: This wildly absorbing, innovative murder mystery is a must-read for Agatha Christie fans.
As The Serpent’s Teeth opens, an enigmatic assassin embarks on a curiously easy mission. As he prepares to enter the opulent estate, he has no need to hack its security system – instead, he simply logs in with the credentials his employer provided. Once inside, he finds his target, 79-year-old Emma King, sitting in front of the fireplace. And just as his employer predicted, Emma seems content – if not prepared – to accept her fate. Afterwards, the assassin leaves the shell casings as instructed, secures the home, and is picked up by a chauffeur who takes him to the airport.
Soon after, the executor of Emma’s will reads a masterfully written communique to the family. In it, she blatantly calls her heirs ungrateful and disappointing. She also asserts that as each of them came to her in recent years looking for an advance on their inheritance, she noticed a hatred that made her fear for her own life. In the event that she is murdered, she explains, no one will inherit a penny until the killer is brought to justice.
Detective Sergeant Jane Rieger-Franklin is tasked with solving the crime. Author Stephen Kronwith, MD, has equipped his heroine with a cutting sense of humor, as is apparent as she assembles the heirs for the first time: “I’m a big Agatha Christie fan..I love it when she gathers all suspects in a Victorian mansion or luxurious train car to painstakingly explain how Poirot gathered the evidence and put all the clues together” (Agatha Christie fans will rejoice, as Kronwith pays homage to her repeatedly in the book). But Kronwith is far more than an Agatha Christie clone. In a refreshing alternative to the stereotypical fictional detective, who is typically lonely and often depressed, Jane is deeply in love. Throughout the investigation, Janes balances a rich and vibrant family life that experiences highly relatable ups and downs.
It doesn’t take Jane long to find the identity of Emma’s assassin, but she also realizes that’s not really the point. She’s betting the employer is one of the King heirs, and she won’t stop until she uncovers the truth. What’s more, a second murder will lead to a shock ending that only the most insightful readers will see coming. Kronwith, who delighted us with Lover Girl, has done it again.