When the Serpent Bites
by Nesly Clerge
Fredrick Starks has fallen from grace.
The descent was just as messy as it was cruel, and he’s got all the time in the world to contemplate his mistakes, now that he’s been shut away from the world behind bars of steel and is in the charge of men made of ice.
Growing up wasn’t easy. The son of an aloof mother and an absentee father, Starks was pushed nearly beyond repair, in both the mental and physical senses, the expectations of his family settled firmly on his broad shoulders amidst good intentions and love that fell short. It took years of dedication as well as sheer power of will to succeed, but as an adult, he has broken all of the stereotypes of his class and culture and sits supreme. right at the top of his game. A dynamic business owner with more money than he could ever spend, attractive and rugged good looks that make women stop and stare, and a mind that is sharper than the edge of a carefully honed knife — this is the Fredrick Starks of present day, and his past is firmly behind him.
Well, all of his past except Kayla. His wife. His childhood crush. His high-school sweetheart. The mother of his children. And now, the reason he’s in jail for the next 10+ years.
It demolished his ego to learn that she’d been stepping out on him. Leaving their three young children behind, Kayla slipped into the velvety night wearing the shortest skirts she could find paired with the highest heels available, always intent upon seductive trouble. She’d drive into town, the motor of the Bentley purring like a contented jaguar deep in the jungle, and she’d flirt with men, sometimes following them home for another brand of indiscretion. Finding out that Kayla, the woman who should be above reproach as the queen of his castle and the lioness of his pride, Starks felt something snap in the recesses of his vigilantly controlled brain, subsequently slipping out into his bloodstream and making him go violently mad.
He certainly didn’t mean to put the object of Kayla’s physical affections into the hospital. A coma was not what he intended. All Starks wanted to do was speak to the man and the man’s wife, letting the woman who was in the dark know what was going on right under her nose. Give the woman he’d never met a chance to get out while she still had her dignity intact. But things didn’t go according to plan.
Now Starks finds himself an animal trapped in a cage; in a 12×12 prison cell, unable to trust anyone or anything. He’s left alone with his thoughts and his memories as an uncomfortable sort of solace; he’s a prisoner in more ways than one. His present day is bleak. He’s been marked as a target by a few of the inmates. He has no friends to watch his back. His meticulously curated friendships in the outside world are hanging in limbo and beginning to fray around the edges. All of the money in the world can’t save him in this cold place, and struggling to figure out the relationship infrastructure is about as easy as trying to navigate through a hostile work environment while maintaining a passive demeanor and shy nature. But Starks will have to tread carefully, both within his cell and without — but most of all, within his dreams and the thoughts that threaten to consume his mind and spirit and sink him deeper into the bowels of hell.
When the Serpent Bites is the first in a trilogy surrounding the character of Frederick Starks and the inner-workings of his relationships and position. The debut novel by Nesly Clerge, a science-minded chiropractic healer by day and a writer by night, the novel has been critically acclaimed and won the International Book Award Gold Medal for 2017’s best general fiction book.
The books in this series are as follows:
When the Serpent Bites delves deep into the mind of a man and how he perceives the romantic relationships around him in all their dirty glory. In an honest account of how the male sex thinks and turns things over, Clerge has provided insight into situations that are often seen in a completely different way by the female gender. Topics such as financial responsibility, roles of the man versus woman, and the muddy waters of infidelity are all but sliced open wide on the kitchen table for readers to view and devour or in some cases, turn their noses up to. No subject is left out of the analysis of the man/woman relationship structure and the connections are both painful and full of bliss as the author winds his way through the inception of the character’s infatuation with his eventual wife and the decline of their love.
While categorized as a fiction novel, I was surprised at the stance this novel took. After reading the blurb, I expected something quite different from what I was actually given. I think I was anticipating more of a thriller or a story based around the hardening of a man as he turns from a member of refined society into criminal. Instead, When the Serpent Bites reads more like a love story. The character of Starks is extremely complex; his good and not-so-good sides merging together at an apex capped with raw emotional baggage and heartfelt insecurities that manifest itself in very common ways. As most novels go, I found this book to be unique in that it wasn’t afraid to get into the core of Starks and root around without inhibition or apology — a man who on the surface has it all, but deep down at his core is profoundly flawed, and someone who is no doubt very relatable when it comes to male readers. The author left a lot of room for his damaged hero to grow, and this first book in a series of three is simply the tip of the iceberg for what I am sure is to be a roller coaster of adventure for the confused man Starks has become since his time of incarceration.
Giving the novel 3.5 out of 5 stars, I commend the author for his writing style and the meticulous way he presented legal facts and courtroom dynamics. It was obvious that Clerge did research in preparation for this book and as a reader, I appreciate the efforts. It stands to wonder how much the author has in common with his protagonist, as both seem to be very clear on their objectives and in the neatness of their creations. There was however, a lot of dialogue between characters that appeared forced and somewhat clinical, putting me a bit off. I didn’t understand the formality in a lot of the exchanges, especially between those who knew each other so intimately and in situations that called for a much softer touch. I think the writing got caught up in other aspects of progression, and I am anxious to read the preceding novels to see if conversations become more organic.
I recommend When the Serpent Bites for readers who enjoy fiction told from the male perspective, as well as the man’s view on love and relationships.