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Snare of serpents by Victoria Holt
Victoria Holt wrote this book inspired by the true story of Madeleine Smith, who in 1857 was acquitted in a famous murder trial. Some of the similarities are the stern father, the secret betrothal, the sixpenny worth of arsenic, the unflattering courtroom portrait and of course the "not proven". The author added to these in order to admirably create the "snare of serpents" of the title. I found it odd, however, that near the end of the book Madeleine Smith was indeed referred to. I had imagined a world where the case of Davina Glentyre substituted the Madeleine Smith case. Now that they appear to happen in the same world, the similarities cannot possibly be explained away. It would have been better if this reference had been left out. So a little note of criticism, but otherwise it was a very good read.

The story can be divided in two halves: the first occurring in Edinburgh and the second in South Africa during the Boer wars. Both stories have the same kind of wrongdoing which would implicate our heroine. In the first half of the book she is the ingenue who cannot imagine that some people might do harm, but in the second part she thankfully figures out what's going on before it is too late. The reader probably will have known all along, as the allusions are quite clear. However, there's room for surprise and the ending isn't quite as I thought it would be. And I'm sorry to say I liked my own idea of the final revelation better.

The gothic elements aren't all there; it's more the interaction between the people which makes us wonder where evil lurks. I always enjoy the way how Victoria Holts uses lots of dialogue to tell her story. Simple, serious and to the point. Nowadays many authors feel the need to make the conversations humorous, which I find tiresome, uninformative and unnatural.

My verdict: 8 out of 10

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