The Trail of the Serpent by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

The Trail of the Serpent

Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1837–1915), Victorian England’s bestselling woman writer, blends Dickensian humor with chilling suspense in this “exuberantly campy” (Kirkus Reviews) mystery. The novel features Jabez North, a manipulative orphan who becomes a ruthless killer; Valerie de Cevennes, a stunning heiress who falls into North’s diabolical trap; and Mr. Peters, a mute detective who communicates his brilliant reasoning through sign langu...

Details The Trail of the Serpent

TitleThe Trail of the Serpent
Release DateFeb 11th, 2003
PublisherModern Library
GenreClassics, Mystery, Literature, 19th Century, Fiction, Historical, Victorian, European Literature, British Literature

Reviews The Trail of the Serpent

  • Sara
    Think of the worst of the villains, like Simon Legree or Bill Sikes, and multiply their evil, add in cunning and calculation, and you will have a pretty good portrait of Jabez North. Even his name sort of makes you want to shrink backward, does it not? Written in 1860, The Trail of the Serpent is credited with being the first British detective fiction ever published. She predates Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone by eight years. She is known to have in...
  • Tristram
    It’s the Humour That Does ItThat does what?That lets her get away with it. Imagine a novelist whose characters are basically one-dimensional, larger-than-life Punch-and-Judy stock and have their actions thrust upon them not so much by inner motives than by the requirements of a penny dreadful plot – in German, we would call it a Räuberpistole. Imagine a novelist who heaps crime upon crime, not caring a fig about his credibility but pandering...
  • Genia Lukin
    This book was, dare I say it, cute... in a Victorian sensationalist way, of course. All those larger-than-life characters! And the random heinous villains with dominant villainy genetics1 And pretty noblewomen sacrificing everything for love! And the 'I am your father!' moments!It's the sort of read you enjoy because you indulge it, not indulge it because you enjoy it. The maverick coincidences of the whole story -"Yup, here I am, walking down th...
  • Nente
    The plot must be the most unbelievable one I have ever seen. But the irony and self-irony of an occasional observation persuades me that the author is capable of better things, and the prose is decent if not in any way remarkable. Will have a look at another of her books, at any rate.
  • Alex
    Good news: the characters. The mute detective Peters, and the alchemist Blurosset are particularly wonderful, but there are a host of other memorable ones. Nice job, Braddon.Bad news: the plot. Do the contrivances and coincidences of Dumas, Dickens and Hugo irritate you? For heaven's sake, then, do not read this book. Right from minute one, the dumbest shit happens. The three authors I just mentioned are not being lazy when unlikely things happen...
  • Lobstergirl
    Foundlings, doppelgängers, murders, poisonings, mistaken identities, disguises and aliases, nabobs, bastard children, infanticide, lunatic asylums. A pathologically evil, socially climbing, golddigging killer commits murders. We know who he is; the only question is will he be caught, and how. Plotwise, this is one of the more ridiculous novels I've ever read. Probably never have so many absurd coincidences propelled a narrative forward. It shoul...
  • Margaret
    Braddon's style is not as polished as in later books, and the coincidences come not single spies but in battalions, but Braddon's first novel is a campy and enjoyable melodrama, as well as one of the first detective novels. I didn't like it as much as Lady Audley's Secret or The Doctor's Wife, but it was more fun to read than John Marchmont's Legacy.
  • Jim Dooley
    One of the joys in my Life is having a book come seemingly from out of nowhere, and then I absolutely fall in love with it. This was one of those books. On a slow Sunday afternoon, I began browsing an online lending library under the category of "Suspense" and this gem was uncovered.From what I've been able to learn, this book which was written in 1860 was the first British detective novel. It had appeared in serialized form under a different tit...
  • Herman Gigglethorpe
    Braddon's first novel is as sensational as any of her later ones. All the poisoning and morally suspect Frenchies reminded me of Run to Earth. The phrase "run to earth" is used at the end of the book, come to think of it. Braddon recycles many of her plots and characters between novels, but varies them enough to keep the reader from getting bored.Jabez North is a "fondling" who was found floating in the Sloshy river in the town of Slopperton, a p...
  • Pat
    (Actually, I read the ebook at, which has a few typos, but not that many.) A rich man is murdered by a consummate villain who looks like an angel and frames an innocent man.I loved Lady Audley's Secret, so Trail of the Serpent is right up my alley: over-the-top Victorian melodrama, with murders and madhouses and betrayals and deliciously unlikely coincidences. And told in a pseudo-Dickens style, with some genuinely funny moments an...
  • Jill
    I love a book that makes fun of itself.On many occasions, characters say that events that are unfolding are like a melodrama or a “lady’s novel” while the story presents us with separated twins, impossible coincidences, a false murder conviction, secret marriages, overheard conversations, poisoned wine, an insane asylum, suicide, bastards, scars, long-kept secrets, great fortunes, and a rag-tag gang of half-drunken crime-solvers. I often la...
  • Rachel
    I really, really enjoyed this sensationalism novel. It took me a long time to finish it because I didn't want to say goodbye to Richard Marwood, Jabez North, Mr Peters, Valerie de Cevennes, and the rest of the entertaining cast of characters.
  • classic reverie
    I am a huge fan of MEB, this being her first novel, I was not disappointed but enjoyed every page. What I found interesting was she uses humor in her other books but far less than this story and also less romance. She was able to bring mystery & suspense to the very last page, many times I was surprised at finding something out I never thought about. One reason I love her is she is a romantic at heart which reads in her other books I have read bu...
  • Helen
    This, Braddon’s first novel, is an absolute hoot. Sarah Waters describes it as a ‘lurid, improbable’ story, and indeed it is, but it’s written with such vigour that the reader is happily swept along by every impossible coincidence, every unlikely event. The overwhelming melodrama of the plot is leavened by a pervasive and sly black humour that puts one in mind of Dickens (and is, dare I say it, less laboured and prolix than Dickens), quit...
  • Ian
    This is Mrs Braddon’s first novel and probably one for completists only. Even by the conventions of the sensation novel it is rather lurid and the characters poorly drawn. The villain and his dastardly deeds are like something from a cheap Victorian hiss-and-boo melodrama. There is however a nice sense of irony and humour to the prose which makes it readable. However there is too much unnecessary commentary which rather slows the pace of what i...
  • Cynthia
    I love the late Victorian Sensationalist genre. The best known author from that school is Wilkie Collins but it also includes Margaret Oliphant, Ellen Woods, & Mary Bradden. I've read other of Braddon's books and enjoyed them but this former actress turned writer left me a bit lost with her first book.....and this was supposedly a re-working from her original book. She threw in every plot device she could think of which made for confusion. There ...
  • J A
    'I beg to protest this affair from first to last ... it is so intolerably melodramatic.' If there is a criticism of the novel to be made then these words -- from the character of the Marquis de Cevenne -- express it well: the coincidences and contrivances, madness and murder &c. that you expect from a Victorian sensation novel are here stretched to simply ludicrous proportions. Such a quality is likely to produce either bathos or genuine interest...
  • K.m.
    A really solid Victorian crime novel/thriller of sorts. If you enjoy detective work, sensationalism, and a very Dickensian brand of word play and humor this will not disappoint. The villain is almost endlessly clever and debased, the mute detective an idiosyncratic pseudo-Sherlock Holmes, and the dingy, wet town at the heart of the story is called Slopperton-on-the-Sloshy. Clearly this has a little bit of everything. It's not groundbreaking, but ...
  • Sydney
    I really loved the first two parts of this novel, and if they had all been like that, this would have easily been a 5 star novel. Unfortunately, this novel began to drag, and there's a big plot hole near the end involving a coffin. it's definitely still worth a read, and I'll be reading more of her stuff, but still only 3 stars.
  • Jason Shaffner
    What's not to like? Brutal murders, secret marriages, a dumb/mute detective, faked deaths, staged crime scenes, courtroom drama! And a tongue in the cheek much of the time... I love Miss Braddon but this is a must read for fans of the detective / crime genre!
  • Christie
    This book features in my third chapter. It's fun, and fun to write about, if not the best sensation novel out there.
  • Elise
    Pretty good. It was hard to see motive for a long time, but it came together pretty well and I enjoyed it. Sometimes a little slow, but mostly fast paced.
  • Kate
    Entertaining sensation novel from 1860 and the first British detective novel. Good fun, would have been edited more perhaps.
  • Dianne
    You simply HAVE to read this detective story from little known and taught, but most prolifict Victorian lady writer.