4 stars out of 5
Bull bollocks! The first thing that came to my mind about halfway through this rollicking novel is that it would have been even more rollicking had I read (or re-read) William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice before I started. But it didn't bother me quite so much when I got to the end and read Moore's explanation; in fact, the book was inspired by The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe as well as Shakespeare's Othello: The Moor of Venice and the aforementioned Merchant. What's Moor (pun intended), Serpent is set in Medieval times, some 300 years before Shakespeare's writing.
It was a time when ladies who wanted to marry into wealth left their knickers at home in the drawers of their hope chests, shagging thy neighbor's wife was frowned upon only when you got caught, and less-than-manly men wore over-sized codpieces to attract knickerless ladies - much as we "girls" stuffed Kleenex into our bras in the 1950s (until, happily, a decade or so later we realized we didn't need bras at all).
At any rate, maybe reading Merchant would have helped a bit, but then again, maybe not so much. I still managed to chuckle out loud every now and then - just not quite as much as when I read another of Moore's books, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. Not a fair comparison, perhaps, since Lamb is without doubt one of the top two laugh-out-loud books I've ever read (topped only by Twisted Tales from Shakespeare by Richard Armor.
This one starts as three men in Venice - Antonio, Brabantio and Iago - lure rascal-fool Pocket to their lair for what was to be wine and a lusty woman (in this case, Brabantio's beautiful daughter, Portia). But alas, the wine was drugged, and Portia is nowhere around. Instead, the plan is to kill Pocket; and for a time, it appears they got away with it.
But no, Pocket manages to escape - with a little help from a creature from a black lagoon. Then, he sets out on a fool's course to set things right, accompanied through most of the trials, tribulations, travails and travels by Jessica, the daughter of Shylock. Other familiar names pop in and out, like Othello, his wife, Desdemona, Cordelia and a monkey named Jeff (well, maybe that one's not so familiar).
All in all, Moore's written another winner - witty, clever, irreverent and just plain fun to read.
The Serpent of Venice: A Novel by Christopher Moore (HarperCollins Publishers, April 2014); 336 pp.