Wiltse produced one of 1982's most promising thriller debuts, The Wedding Guest. So this second novel--a gory, farfetched...

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THE SERPENT

Wiltse produced one of 1982's most promising thriller debuts, The Wedding Guest. So this second novel--a gory, farfetched psycho-killer number that's blatantly derivative (cf., among many others, Jack Olsen's 1979 Night Watch)--is a considerable disappointment. The atmospheric prologue is riveting: a small boy named Tom is cruelly terrorized by his ever-pregnant mother, a snake-handling revivalist who's determined to drive the devil (normal sexual curiosity) out of Torn-Tom. Not surprisingly, then, some decades later, a psycho is committing super-grisly murders of pregnant women in New York, signing the name ""Tom-Tom"" in childish print; actually, the whack-o is a multiple (quintuple) personality--with Tom-Tom and sister Kathy among the conflicted selves (at least one of which is unidentified). And, while each of the murders is ghoulishly detailed, Wiltse gives equal attention to the main NYPD cop on the case: Sandy Block, newlywed at 41 to gorgeous film-editor Sheila. Some solid enough clue-chasing ensues. But Sandy starts growing ever more suspicious that the psycho-killer just might be Sandy's boorish, lonely partner Florio--who definitely has started taking an obsessive interest in Sheila. Is Florio just smitten with his partner's wife? Or is he ""Tom-Tom""? The question becomes a life-or-death matter when Sheila gets pregnant, making her a likely victim. And it seems as if Florio is indeed the killer, nearly caught in the act with Shells. But the real ""Tom-Tom"" is still on the loose, and Sheila will have to be saved from a death-by-snakes at the finale. Despite Wiltse's crisp writing and some neat character sketches along the way: lurid psycho-nonsense--with a hackneyed surprise-solution and lots of appeal for connoisseurs of slash-'em-up gore.

Pub Date: May 23, 1983

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1983