Friday, August 26, 2011

Tina's Review of VIPER by John Desjarlais

I am such a sucker for a strong (if sometimes flawed) female protagonist -- and VIPER by John Desjarlais delivers. Selena de la Cruz is strong because she's vulnerable, both contemporary and traditional at the same time, which makes for an uneasy road.

A former cop now working as an insurance agent, she's brought back into the world of drugs smugglers and homicide when her name turns up in the Book of the Dead. She's still alive, but the people whose names proceed her have all been violently murdered. Suddenly a marked woman, Selena must face an old nemesis -- El Serpiente -- while solving a series of murders that may or may not be part of a plan of divine retribution, and may or may not be a prelude to her own demise.

Exciting stuff, this. The mystery hits several themes — faith vs belief, insider status vs outsider exclusion (and how those edges cut both ways), justice vs retribution. I especially appreciated Selena's struggle to be an assertive, intelligent female in a culture that has traditionally valued a certain home-and-hearth-based passivity even as it produces strong women who buck that trend.

Selena may seem like a contradiction herself – she has Jimmy Choos on her feet and axle grease under her nails. She’s an insurance agent who can work you a fine home coverage package . . . and also chase down bad guys (and bad gals too) while she’s at it. But her character is big enough to contain all these paradoxes (which also serves to ask the smart question of why these things seem like paradoxes in the first place. Why must a woman choose between her car and her shoes?)

This book isn't just smart; it's also fast and edgy and laced with murderous tension. Read VIPER, and then do like I'm doing and go get BLEEDER, the first mystery novel by Desjarlais and Selena’s introduction to the literary world. Or better yet, do it the other way around. But don't miss these books.

Suggested food and beverage pairing: Desjarlais' description of home-cooked tamales had me wanting to crawl into the pages and snatch them from Selena's plate. So tamales, yes, and a nice cerveza, por favor.

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Visit John at . He's also available on Facebook ( and on Twitter ( Visit his alter ego Johnny Dangerous at

VIPER is available at Amazon and through Sophia Institute Press.

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