Serpent Girl by Ray Garton
Reviewed by Anthony Servante
"Steven Benedetti's work has him traveling the country, and driving dark, lonely highways.
But tonight, he passes a carnival and decides to stop - for a break, to be around others... just for something different.
At this carnival, Steven Benedetti meets the Serpent Girl, a woman who stirs him like no other woman has, a woman who, like Benedetti, has a secret.
They hit the night roads together and begin a journey that will change Steven Benedetti forever."
Ray Garton (born 2 December 1962 in Redding, California) is an American author, well known for his work in horror fiction. He has written over sixty books, and in 2006 was presented with the World Horror Convention Grand Master Award.
I always look forward to reading a Ray Garton book. He knows Southern California, and this background works well with his Noir novels. From the desert to Laurel Canyon, the story moves along swiftly as the characters are developed and the plotline thickens.
Carmen, the femme fatale, is brilliantly realized. Hardcore and hardboiled. Steven Benedetti, a retired hitman, just may have met his match, in bed and in blood. Steve stops at a carnival stop to try to recapture his childhood memories, but the rides are rundown and shoddy, the first disappointment that he picks up from the carnival. The next thing he picks up is the beautiful Carmen, a snake dancer who has a violent argument with Lenny, her boss and ex-boyfriend. As Steve escorts Carmen to his car, Lenny warns him that he’ll regret his decision to help the seemingly helpless girl. This warning constitutes the climax of the book.
On the road to Los Angeles, Carmen and Steve play a game of cat and mouse as they both have secrets that will soon be revealed in the first act of the story. Trouble is, who’s the cat and who’s the mouse? When we learn their secrets, the second act begins. Steve and Carmen have sex everywhere and anytime and intensely. Thanks to the use of condoms, the book avoids an X rating. The book in fact can be rated R. The secret for both our lovers is that they are killers, but two very different kinds of killer. This difference leads to the conclusion of act two.
Act three is all about revelations and horror. That difference distinguishes sane killing from insane. Then all the metaphors and symbolism emerge to signal to the reader that all hell is about to break loose. Keep in mind that Carmen is the Serpent (as in the Garden of Eden) and Benedetti means “blessed” in many languages. The climax takes place in the Devil’s Playground, a lush spot in the desert, and Carmen sings along to Highway to Hell by AC/DC as they drive there. But symbols aside, that inevitable conclusion was forthcoming since the first time Steve felt that first red flag waving in his head. All that sex they had had different meanings for both of them. Try to keep your lunch down when you learn of that difference.
The story reminded me of the movie Detour (1945), which had a similar femme fatale. Only in 1945, there was only so much the censors would allow. Ray Garton has brought the Crime Novel to modern times with an uncensored vengeance. Serpent Girl is a Noir Classic for the new Millennium.