Monday, January 11, 2010

Lethal, Slimy, Slithery, and Lithe

ISLE OF THE SNAKES is the second Ace paperback to feature the character of Jose da Silva, the mustachioed Brazilian captain of Interpol introduced in 1962 in the Edgar-winning THE FUGITIVE. Robert L. Fish, who also frequently wrote as Robert L. Pike, authored ten da Silva novels in all, in addition to many others. His most famous work, published in 1963, the same year ISLE OF THE SNAKES came out, is probably MUTE WITNESS, a crime drama about a New York City cop named Clancy, which was adapted as the film BULLITT.

ISLE OF THE SNAKES is not a bad little adventure. A little padded, even at 157 pages, as the first 28 feature a long stalking sequence that really could have done in less than half the time. And don't be fooled by the title. Oh, yes, there is an island of snakes, but it doesn't factor until the last twenty pages, and no one ever even sets foot on it.

It's up to da Silva to solve the mystery of a man found tortured to death on a Rio de Janeiro beach, leaving behind a mysterious package: a stuffed coral snake. It seems innocuous enough, if a bit creepy, but someone is going to a lot of trouble to find the package, killing people and even blowing up da Silva's beloved Jaguar.

The detective eventually figures out that a treasure map is concealed on the snake's body--a map that leads to something on the titular island, which is literally crawling with millions of deadly snakes. I'm sure not going there, treasure be damned, but da Silva's dogged investigative nature leaves him little choice.

da Silva is an interesting, likable character who shares friendly banter with an American diplomat named Wilson, who goes undercover to help his pal solve the mystery.

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