Natural horror coming at us again, visiting the popular fear of non-legged reptiles. In Venom, a trapper makes a grievous error while catching snakes out in the African plains and labels a black mamba as a harmless African house snake. The black mamba isn't the most powerfully venomous, but it is still nonetheless quite poisonous. What makes it dangerous however is it's extreme aggressiveness, striking without hesitation and feeling threatened by mere vibrations. Where most snakes would run for the hills, the mamba would do the same - but only after injecting a good amount of venom into the foe first.
Like Slime, which I reviewed recently, Venom takes place in London once again. It also doesn't imbue the snake with extreme qualities and stays true to the snake's true capabilities in nature. Alan Scholefield researched his main character pretty well it seems, occasionally giving us glimpses into the snake's instinctual thought patterns. But rather than being a good natural horror, Venom has a number of caveats that keeps it from being that great of a novel.
Here's the backdrop - rich family in London goes away for the weekend leaving the care of their son, Phillip, to the housekeepers and their guest, Howard. Howard is there to protect the kid, actually, being a Great White Hunter who heralds from Kenya and previously ran the man of the house's safari resort there before being mauled by a lion and losing not only a good deal of intestines, but a whole lot of nerve as well. For a Great White Hunter, the man was a freaking wimp. As we said, the parents are away on holiday, and this is the time that the housekeepers bring in Frenchman Jacmel to kidnap the son for a good bout of cash. Of course it goes awry, and the group is boarded up in the house.
Just prior to the attempted kidnapping, Phillip had gone to the pet store to pick up the house snake that his buddy Howard had bought for him to add to his animal collection. Now the switch that happened on the plains of Africa becomes apparent when the boy returns home with a nice, deadly black mamba. The snake gets loose in the house while the group of kidnappers and hostages are trapped within. At this point the novel turns into a bland police drama with the dealings, negotiations and attempted break ins and stand offs between Jacmel and police chief Bulloch. The snake? Well it just hangs out in the air ducts for a while. We see the snake TWICE through the entire run of the novel (not including the short glimpses into its head, which serve not so much more than a, 'oh hey, before y'all forget, there's this snake around too' and nothing more). It gets a bite on one person, who of course dies from the venom. That's pretty much it. Seems the snake is pretty damn wimpy too.
And that's Venom in a nutshell. There's this snake, and at the beginning then at the end of the book it bites things (such as a clock). In the meantime we droll through a bland cop/kidnapping drama, receiving lengthy biographies of all the characters and waiting for the suspense that was promised us on the book's jacket cover. If you're really bored and have nothing better to do, such as removing lint from all your jeans' pockets, then maybe you can give Venom a try. Otherwise, pass it by.
"Venom" by Alan
Published by Popular Library / CBS Publications
Copyright © 1977 by Alan Sholefield and Anthea Scholefield