On the Trail of the Serpent: The Epic Hunt for the Bikini Killer

Penguin Pr. Mar. 2021. 368p. ISBN 9780143136859. pap. $17. CRIME
Journalist Clarke updates her 1979 title Shadow of the Cobra: The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj (cowritten with Neville, who died in 2016). In the 1960s, young people from the U.S. and Europe began flocking to Asia, enticed by cheap food and lodging, pristine beaches, free-flowing drugs, and the promise of adventure. Often on their own for the first time, the naive young tourists were the perfect targets for a con man and serial killer who went undetected for several years. Born in Saigon in 1944 to an Indian father and a Vietnamese mother, Charles Sobhraj resented his mother for moving him to France with his stepfather and became obsessed with returning to South Asia. He began committing petty thefts at a young age, and his crimes only grew as he got older. Once he returned to South Asia, he became adept at conning tourists, poisoning and robbing them. Emboldened by his ability to evade authorities, he escalated to murder, prompting an international manhunt. Clark and Neville draw on a wealth of documentation, correspondence, and interviews with Sobhraj and other figures for a gripping account of Sobhraj’s life and evolution into a serial killer.
VERDICT Fans of Netflix’s The Serpent will devour this compulsively readable work of true crime.
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