The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

June 28, 2009


SYNOPSIS: Reclusive wildlife veterinarian Clara Benning receives an unusual request from a local doctor: review the postmortem of a man who is presumed to have died from a snakebite. The postmortem reveals a higher level of snake venom than was possible from the single bite the man had experienced, so she knows the man was in fact murdered. As homes in the village begin to be overrun with snakes, Clara finds herself searching for answers buried fifty years earlier when a church had burned and two men had died in the fire. When her own home is broken into and Clara finds herself face to face with a dead man, the search becomes a race for both life and truth.

REVIEW: I'm not supposed to prejudge a book but I really dragged my feet about reading this book because I thought it probably fell into one of two types of tales: A serial killer tale with graphic gore and not much more; or a supernatural tale of snakes, spirits, witches and (yawn) so forth.

Well, there's a reason you're supposed to read the book before judging it. I was so wrong. And I enjoyed this book far more than I expected to.

Awakening follows fairly closely in the gothic suspense tradition of Mary Stewart and Phyllis Whitney. (And if you're surprised that I'm familiar with those authors' works, I'll just say that I read voraciously as a child and our library branch was much, much smaller then.) The books are strong on mystery and suspense with just a modicum of romance for those who require it.

Clara Benning is a character with intelligence and determination. She is scarred both physically and mentally, and so is also self-obsessed. The title of the book speaks as much to her own personal awakening to the possibilities of living in the world with other humans as to the awakening of evil in her village.

The book is sprinkled with interesting information about snakes, snake handlers, and venoms. Bolton does a fine job of creating an English countryside that is calm and beautiful, wild and dangerous all at the same time. While the story sometimes has a little too much of what makes a story like this good - there's probably an optimum number of times the reader should fear for the heroine and it isn't the same number of times as the maximum - this book is no less enjoyable for that.

Bolton wrote her red-herrings and plot twists so carefully, with such candidness from her heroine, that one hardly notices how very unlikely some of the villain's actions are. In my case I chose to ignore those small things because I was having such a jolly good time racing around Dorset with Clara, rescuing mute swans and feeding barn owls while evading a gang of juvenile thugs, hiding in chalk mines, meeting up with a Steve Irwin-type of television herpetologist, house-breaking, ghost hunting, and generally doing some pretty good detective legwork.

You can read the prologue and entire first chapter of Awakening here I'll give you only the very beginning of the first chapter:
How did it all begin? Well, I suppose it would be the day I rescued a newborn baby from a poisonous snake, heard the news of my mother’s death and encountered my first ghost.


  1. In your synopsis, I'd swear we were in Dean Koontz country with the summary you laid out. This sounds pretty engaging. Thanks for the chapter link. Good review, Corey.

  2. Think Mary Stewart with a Dean Koontz contemporary edge.

    It won't leave you with a message or moments of wonder, but I thought it was a fun, fun read. I think it would make a pretty good suspense film, too, what with the snakes and there being plenty of action.

  3. Funny, I had just the same view of Sacrifice, her first novel. I was wary, but very much enjoyed it. I think this author is a very good writer. I thought the denouement and ending of Sacrifice too crazy, but I'm very glad I read it. I was initially put off Awakening by the snake theme, but in light of your post I think I will give it a go (when out in PB in the UK!).

  4. maxine, I'm looking forward to reading 'Sacrifice'. I agree with your view of the author's writing.