Where Serpents Lie

T. Jefferson Parker’s six thrillers usually focus on complex crimes and the dark secrets surrounding them in Orange County, California. In WHERE SERPENTS LIE, Terry Naughton, head of the police department’s Crimes Against Youth, a division he founded, is confronted with his most challenging case when someone calling himself Horridus begins kidnapping young girls. Horridus releases them before physically harming them, but his pattern of behavior suggests violence is forthcoming.

Naughton’s investigation is complicated by his messy personal life. Guilt-ridden over the death of his young son and the subsequent collapse of his marriage, Naughton is living with a fellow officer once married to a third policeman, and he is also having an affair with a television reporter. Naughton’s biggest obstacle, however, is photographic evidence that he is a pedophile himself. Were the photographs created by Horridus, by Naughton’s jealous colleague, or by both?

The process of the investigation is fascinating as Naughton tracks his prey partly through Horridus’ obsession with dangerous snakes. To stop the criminal, the police must battle both figurative and literal serpents while Naughton fights his own demons. Those familiar with Joseph Heller’s SOMETHING HAPPENED (1974) can guess the detective’s deepest secret.

WHERE SERPENTS LIE opens with Naughton solving a case in which parents force their ten-year-old daughter into prostitution. Parker clearly intends to fulfill an educational function, thinking the public cannot comprehend such horrible crimes without entering the minds of the perpetrators. This intention does not negate, however, the exploitative side of using such an issue for what is essentially an entertainment. While WHERE SERPENTS LIE is unusually well written for a thriller, it is finally too depressing.