It's not a stretch to say that Clara Benning feels more comfortable around animals than people. A veterinarian in a small English village of St. Francis on the Dorset coast, she's truly engrossed in her life of treating sheep, pigs, cattle and other area wildlife but remains rather reclusive otherwise. When her daily routine is disrupted by a few house calls in which some definitely non-indigenous animals are seen around town, Clara begins to think it's not a coincidence. Indeed when a distraught mother calls on Clara to remove a venomous snake from her baby's crib and another family's home is overrun with snakes which are most certainly not the garden variety, it becomes pretty self-evident that there's a human hand involved. When one snake attack and then another cause fatalities, the oddly curious outcropping of serpentine reptiles becomes a menacing epidemic. With the help of Assistant Chief Constable Matt Hoare and oddball eccentric herpetologist (snake expert) Sean North, Clara starts investigating the mystery soon finding that some things about her little village aren't so venerable. Not long after she uncovers a long kept secret about the history of the town, Clara's ultimately accused of being the perpetrator, a mess she'll only get out of if she can solve the mystery herself.
Bolton writes a good mystery, capturing a sympathetic and very well-fleshed out character in Clara. While she's no James Herriot, she knows her way around her small rural community where withering isolation and claustrophobia can drive certain people insane. Even though it's a scenic locale, one in which tourists stop by, St. Francis is one of those places where everyone's in everyone else's business and the only way to keep your private life private is by becoming a recluse à la Clara. Most readers will feel an instant connection with the dedicated vet, an individual who's had her share of past wounds and inner demons to deal with. Some more cozy mystery lovers may not take to the slithering snake element, the beasts more than a little too close for comfort on several occasions, namely when they inhabit the same beds as sleeping couples and children. Bolton was nominated for a Dagger Award for her debut novel Sacrifice, another great read. (MYS BOLTON)