Carnahan's hard-boiled debut is a send-up of all sorts of crime fiction; it's populated by crystal-meth-making bikers, a limbless circus freak and narrator Bailey Quinn, who steals $45,000 for college tuition and is double-crossed by his partners in crime. They slit his throat and leave him for dead. When Quinn awakens, high on peyote, he describes his condition thusly: "When I came to I was squatting and clutching my balls like they were a dangerous little animal that might escape." That's the book's opening sentence, and Quinn's adventures only become more intriguing. Carnahan's got a gift for plot twists, and though he can be florid, his style serves Quinn's character well. (The dynamic between dorm dwellers and fraternities, he says, is "as divided as the Hutus and Tutsis, along lines that were almost as indecipherable.") No, literature this ain't. But for a quick, amusing read, Serpent Girl hits the spot.