By Marty Mulrooney
Are Snakes Necessary? is the debut novel of legendary filmmaker Brian De Palma (Scarface, The Untouchables) and former editor of the New York Times and author Susan Lehman. Published by Hard Case Crime and Titan Books, it tells the story of a philandering senator cheating on his wife, a beautiful young videographer, and a ruthless ‘fixer’…
“Okay,” she says. “Let’s cut to the chase. You want Rogers to be caught with someone just like me.”
Brock smiles. “You are a bright girl.”
“Make it fifteen. And throw in a couple of grand for a clothes budget. I can’t go to work dressed like this.”
The eye-catching dust jacket of Are Snakes Necessary? prominently features a Martin Scorsese quote – “It’s like having a new Brian De Palma picture.” – that neatly sums up the book’s inherent identity crisis. Make no mistake; this is a novel that is dying to be a motion picture. When taken as such it’s highly entertaining, but it relies heavily on the reader applying some of De Palma’s trademark cinematic flair inside their own head.
Are Snakes Necessary? opens by introducing Barton Brock, a corrupt political campaign manager who hires a drop-dead gorgeous blonde he discovers in a McDonald’s restaurant to conduct ‘push polls’. However, he has much bigger plans for Elizabeth deCarlo than calling Republicans. Once she’s settled in, he makes her a cash offer; he wants her to sleep with the opposition and take a compromising photograph that will destroy his campaign.
“Crump is a loser,” says Rogers. “But I appreciate a man of your inventiveness. Why don’t you thrown in the towel on that guy. Along with everyone else. How about coming to work for me?”
Senator Lee Rogers plays dirtier than anyone and soon – after Elizabeth deCarlo has been thoroughly screwed over by both men – Barton Brock is working for him. Fast forward further down the campaign trail and Rogers bumps into an old flame at the airport called Jenny Cours. Her 18-year-old daughter Fanny – in the full flush of carnality – is a self-professed political junkie. Knowing an opportunity when she sees one, she boldly asks the Senator if he has room for an intern that summer (alarm bells are already ringing in her mother’s ears).
What follows is a fast-paced tale of sex, murder and politics. Elizabeth deCarlo’s story continues to run parallel with the main thread and part of the fun is figuring out how it’s all going to come together. However, despite being set in the modern day, Are Snakes Necessary? harks back to a time when political corruption still had the power to shock. Nowadays, it’s mostly accepted as commonplace (even if it can’t always be proven) and as a result the narrative loses some of its bite.
“Guess what,” Senator Rogers tells Fanny. He is sitting on another red leather sofa in another hotel suite. He has his monthly calendar on his knee. “We’re going to France.”
Are Snakes Necessary? is somewhat lacking in the originality department then, but nevertheless proves to be good old-fashioned pulpy fun. It’s certainly a real page-turner – especially when the action moves to Paris, France – with a wickedly satisfying ending. The marketing surrounding the book has probably done it a bit of a disservice; it isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. However, it is funny, dark, violent and sexy – and sometimes, when you’re in the right mood, that particular cocktail can be just as drinkable as a single malt.
7 OUT OF 10