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The Shape of Snakes

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  2,638 ratings  ·  116 reviews
This "New York Times" Notable Book begins on a rainy winter night. It takes hours for a black woman known as "Mad Annie" to die in the gutter. It will take 20 years for the woman who found her to shape her neighbors' racism, the indifference of the police, and her own rage into the truth.
Paperback, 384 pages
Published June 4th 2002 by Jove (first published 2000)
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The Best British Crime/Mystery Fiction
184th out of 785 books — 780 voters
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Shape Up!
21st out of 117 books — 22 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Another terrific page-turner from my new favorite crime-story author. A black woman, Annie, dies under suspicious circumstances in the working class London neighborhood where she lived. The ensuing investigation resulted in the death being ruled accidental and the woman who found the dying woman labeled hysterical because of her insistence that foul play had been involved. Twenty years later, she returns to find justice for Annie, and a certain measure of revenge on the people who turned their b...more
This was a great book, really captivating. Recommended to anyone who loves a mystery.
Come to think of it...I don't even like mysteries that much, and I still loved it!
About a woman who has never accepted the death of a black woman who lived in her street. Searching for answers, she uncovers more than just who murdered the poor woman. And although she never spoke to the dead woman, she grows closer to her by trying to find her killer.

Now something for you to think about- What is the main characte...more
Oct 02, 2009 Kim rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: mystery
This psychological murder mystery is, in my opinion, one of Walters’ best. And I have read lots of her work.

The plot is about a woman determined to solve what she believes to be the murder of a neighbour and friend.

The book starts with ‘I could never decide whether ‘Mad Annie’ was murdered because she was mad or because she was black.’ And while her killing may be resolved, this question remains a source of vexation throughout.

In the telling of a really good story, this book raises issues of ra...more
I tried to read this years ago and abandoned it because at the time I didn't appreciate the format of the narrative, which is in equal proportions straight forward prose and 'documents' (police statements, doctor's notes, affidavits etc). Basically, I was sulking about Walters' departure from her winning formula of bog standard yet beautifully crafted crime story telling. I picked it up again during this Christmas break and this time I not only finished it but came to appreciate it. It still did...more
Minette Walters' use of various memos, news clippings, and letters in addition to the experience of a primary character to augment our understanding of this crime is amazingly engaging and effective. I found this book devistating in its indictment of British racism and in the petty quarrels of an uneasy street of neighbors. Unexpected cruelty, rationalization, and deception make for a reading experience that will stay with you long after you close the book.
I have loved reading every single one of Minette Walter's novels, but I have to say that The Shape of Snakes is one of the best I have read so far.

The ending is particularly poignant.
Deon Stonehouse
The Shape of Snakes by Minette Walters has twists and turns to keep the pages turning. This is a dark disturbing mystery with a complex challenging plot. Mad Annie suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome, her neighbors lack sympathy, they find her verbal outbursts and ticks annoying. Annie’s neighbors don’t like the color of her skin either. Mrs. Ranelagh finds the poor woman in the gutter, moments from death. She refuses to believe Mad Annie met with an unfortunate accident, when she starts objecting...more
Apr 20, 2008 Cindi rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Laura, Caterry, Beth
Another "smart" mystery from Minette Walters, who does not write series mysteries. Each of her books is a stand alone novel. I read the first two thirds very quickly, but slowed down toward the end because I ended vacation and went back to work. I wish I had been able to read t all in a few sittings because when I was only reading a few pages each night, I started missing some of the interconnections. Some interesting themes in this one: racism, family relationships, animal cruelty, revenge, jus...more
This book was thoroughly enjoyable, but there were a few things I wanted to mention in a review.

I didn't expect the narrative breaks with the non-narrator letters and reports, etc. At first I found them jarring, but once I knew they were coming, I liked the device and found it effective. The Hong Kong doctor's letters, in particular. Great insight into the main character.

I also found a number of dialogue scenes to be simply unbelievable. Do people really talk that deeply and insightfully to ea...more
I felt this was a bit too clever for its own good. I didn't much like the smug narrator, and I nearly gave up many times because it was boring or annoying me. Still, I did finish it, though I'm beginning to realise there are not many crime novels I like. I feel that, often, the evil of the world at large is exaggerated, and all the characters are petty and spiteful. I know this is a very personal reaction though, and many people would rate it higher.
Katie Q
You cannot ever fault a Minette Walters book. This superb story will keep you reading to the last.

What makes this book so special is that it is not your standard crime novel with the police seen as always the good guys. It is obsessive until the end and you will really wonder where it is leading you. Love crime read this one.
Well written, suspenseful, blah blah blah. BUT - and this is really a huge but - these characters are so implausible. Are the British really that..clinically devious? AND that fiendishly clever? Well, maybe so, but I don't really buy it. So only a 3.
I thought this was a great story, full of innuendo and unresolved characters who are more real than the usual lot of portraits in a mystery novel.
Walters has a wonderful ability to scare the pants off you, with nothing more than a few words. Loved it.
I loved this book. It was interesting and kept me questioning everyone. I never ONCE suspected the actual murderer, I'm afraid Mariah will be ashamed of me for that one...I was shocked! I almost cried at the end, it was very bittersweet.
Feb 07, 2014 Tura rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: crime
I read two of hers in a row, this one and The Scold's Bridle: A Novel, and a sort of pattern already emerges - but they are unputdownable. Shape of Snakes is more like a crime novel of something that might have happened, though the actual plot is convolute. There are the families-from-hell terrorising the neighbourhood and nicking stuff rather than some suave heiress types, for example. The atmosphere is creepy, she writes effectively; I have read books with much higher bodycount and more gore,...more
This is a great story - the author does a great jog developing her characters and their relationships. I would tell anyone who likes a good story to read this book!
I like to think I don't view the world around me with naivety or idealized warmth but the characters in this book seem to me to be... just questionable. Everyone appears repellent or unkind in some manner or another and I came away feeling very strongly that any goodness in Walters' world is merely built upon false pleasantries and ulterior motives. Don't get me wrong, I get it, this happens and people can be horrible, but you can't build a world or a (worth-while) story out of this one idea/per...more
Some parts of this were quite disturbing. But over all this is a truly amazing and wonderful book like all Minette Walters.
The teacher who tells the story is a strong intelligent woman. Some surprising twists.
racism and murder, tourette's
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...more
"c2000. I am not sure about this book at all. I have found in the past that its a bit of hit or miss affair with Ms Walters for me. The synopsis, courtesy of Amazon, was nearly a total put off - ""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....more
I felt this was an interesting concept, and started out strong, but by the time I reached the end I felt disappointed. I feel like if a book is going to delve into racism then they should go beyond the surface, not just 'oh hate crimes!' 'Oh police negligence!' 'Oh people using horrible words!'

(view spoiler)...more
Robert Beveridge
Minette Walters, The Shape of Snakes (Putnam, 2001)

What does it say about a novel when there are errors in the text that any half-blind proofreader could have caught, but the novel is still good enough to demand being read in one sitting? Such is the case with Minette Walters' eagerly-awaited seventh novel, The Shape of Snakes. It starts off rather like The Scold's Bridle, with a not-much-loved member of the community dying a quite suspicious death and a woman who'd rather just be left alone get...more
i read the sculptress years ago and loved it. i read the ice house shortly after and disliked it intensely, not because of faulty authorship but because of the way the author portrayed the people in her story. then i saw her on tv expound on her authorship and decided i was right to dislike her. i've avoided her since.

this book i picked up on a whim and read it in one sitting. it was well wrought and interestingly set up - even the slightly tacky trick of including letters and documents in the...more
Roderick Hart
This novel concerns the death of a woman in West London in the year 1978. Explaining her death is complicated by the fact the woman suffered from Tourette’s syndrome, which meant she bad-mouthed several of her neighbours on a regular basis, which they didn’t take kindly to. Those of them who were racially prejudiced also took against her because she was black and, for the same reason, the investigating officer was not disposed to examine the case too closely.

The coroner decided that Annie Butt...more
This is the fifth book by Minette Walters that I have read, although not in the order that she wrote them. And, it is probably the last one of hers I'll read--at least for a while. This book wore me out. First, none of the characters, including the protagonist (first person pov, was likable at all. Second, it was so jam full of deceit and manipulation and resentment and desire for revenge that it left a bad taste in my mouth. Of course, murder isn't pleasant and I don't expect the story of "solv...more
'The Shape of Snakes' is an apt title for the book though in all fairness to the creature, the reference to its instinctive nature to human behaviour is somewhat unfair. Nonetheless, 'snakes' we are when we lurk in the crevices of our disposition only to strike at the opportune time to inflict harm and injury to another life form; be it human or animal and then slither away quietly to watch our victim struggle and die.

This is what Minette Walters, so very intelligently exposes in her 7th book h...more
Kylie Purdie
Once again Minette Walters writes a fantastic book that simply keeps you turning the pages.I truly believe she is one of, if not the best crime writer around.
In this, M (you never find out her first name, just M or Mrs Ranelagh) is trying to prove that "Mad Annie", a black woman who suffered from Tourettes, was murdered 20 years ago and not killed by an accident as claimed.
Walters leads us through many twists and turns as M does what the police didn't - unravel the stories of those in the street...more
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Shake of snakes 1 6 Jan 27, 2014 05:09PM  
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Minette Walters (born 26 September 1949) is a British mystery writer. After studying at Trevelyan College, University of Durham, she began writing in 1987 with The Ice House, which was published in 1992. She followed this with The Sculptress (1993), which received the 1994 Edgar Award for Best Novel. She has been published in 35 countries and won many awards.

The Sculptress has been adapted for tel...more
More about Minette Walters...
The Sculptress The Ice House The Scold's Bridle The Dark Room Acid Row

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