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AV Club Review
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Wednesday, April 15, 2020
'ARE SNAKES NECESSARY?' - A FEW MORE REVIEWS
AS CRITERION ANNOUNCES JULY 14 RELEASE FOR 'THE LADY EVE'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/ladyevemirror.jpg

Criterion announced today that it will release a new 4K digital restoration edition of Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve on July 14, with many special features, some old, some new. Of course, Sturges' film is where Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman take the title of their first novel from, and there are a handful of new reviews of the book from earlier this month:

Sam Tyler, SFBook

There is a certain flavour that a good pulp noir novel should provide and Are Snakes Necessary does this from the very start by introducing us to Brock. This is a self-centred man who starts the book thinking about is aching privates after an operation. So far, so pulp. Rather than stick with just the one character, this is an ensemble piece that shares the limelight equally among three or four characters. Other smaller roles are given time to shine as well.

 

This means that the characters are more rounded than in almost any other noir that I have read. You learn the motivations for a senator, his wife, his intern, his fixer, the women he hired for a con and that women’s lover. It is a potent mix but does lead to this being a slow burner. I found the sense of place and characters enthralling enough that I enjoyed the sedate pace. It has the feel of a Robert Altman film as you just followed interesting people around.

 

The noir elements don’t come to fore until the end. The various threads can play out and only come together as the tension rises. A remake of Vertigo plays a part in the end and it is that film that the book takes its style from. There is an enigmatic quality to the book as you follow characters who do not all seem to have a direction. The conclusion shows that De Palma and Lehman did have a destination in mind – the Eiffel Tower.

If you are used to your pulp noir being naked bodies and guns, then Snakes is not quite for you. The book does have these, but it is more about characterisation and story development. It feels like Wag the Dog written by Carl Hiaasen on one of his more acerbic days. To get the most from this book you must enjoy the journey. The duo of authors fills the pages with nice quips and asides that you would expect from the genre. It certainly lacks a little pace in places and perhaps there were one or two too many characters, but there is no denying that this is an accomplished read that will have fans of character development in good cheer.


Steve Taylor-Bryant, The Dreamcage
Whilst written within the Hard Case Crime kind of style, that 50’s – 70’s pulp detective novel, it is very much a modern story with iPhones, and vlogging, but it's also a timeless tale with its heart in the past books of the publisher. It's witty, it's tense, it's extraordinarily clever, and yet reads in short, snappy sentences, letting your imagination fill in any blanks. It's more of a film treatment or script overview than a traditional novel but having words on a page play out a De Palma cinematic gem in your minds eye is no bad thing. Some may not take to the succinct style and that’s fine, each to their own, but if you read Are Snakes Necessary? from cover to cover I guarantee your life will feel the richer for it.

AnnaBookBel
So you can see where that’ll lead to too. Nick will ultimately end up in Paris working as a behind the scenes photographer on a remake of Vertigo, (which was based on the novel D’entre les morts by French crime duo Boileau-Narcejac). Paris is also where the novel will reach one of two climaxes – yes two!

So we have the fixer, the philanderer, the photographer, the ingenue and the woman scorned. Five well-fleshed out characters that intertwine more intensely as the novel goes on, although I was mostly interested in Elizabeth and, to a slightly lesser extent, Nick, than the others who were more stereotypical. I enjoyed the elements of political satire and the dark soap opera of the plot, done with tongue in cheek. De Palma and Lehman mainly let the characters drive the narrative for around two thirds of the book’s 240 pages before ramping things up in Paris, and then an extended coda. I enjoyed the more slowburn start and middle more than the latter stages of the book, especially the final chapters, which frankly, stretched the limits of plausibility a bit.

If you were expecting the more violent side of De Palma, this novel has its moments, but it’s not that kind of noir. There is moral ambiguity in abundance in the manipulation of and by key characters, and I sped through the pages. There was a cinematic feel to many of the scenes, but apart from the obvious Hitchcock homage and many possible influences at one key location which I shan’t reveal, I didn’t spot many other obvious references. (The title of the novel apparently comes from a book Henry Fonda is reading in the Preston Sturges film The Lady Eve.) In summary, this novel isn’t perfect, but it is definitely an engaging read. (7.5/10)


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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