Thursday, November 10, 2016

Review of Cobra by Deon Meyer (Hodder and Stoughton, 2013)

Detective Benny Griessel is called to a kidnapping scene on a wine estate just outside Cape Town in which two bodyguards and an estate worker have been murdered – each shot with a bullet engraved with a cobra.  It seems the victim is a recently arrived British citizen who was prepared to pay handsomely for protection.  The British consulate confirm the passport is a fake, but will say little else; Interpol reveals that the kidnap is probably the work of an elusive hitman named ‘the Cobra’; and the South African secret service wants to muscle the case away from the cops.  Meantime, a pickpocket is working a shopping mall, trying to gather enough cash to pay for his sister’s university tuition.  Only he picks the wrong victim and suddenly there’s more dead bodies, and more bullets with cobra engravings.  Ordered to pass the case over, Griessel and his team decide to keep investigating sensing that there is more to the demand than law and order.  Still possessing the lifted wallet, the pickpocket is also being drawn into a deadly game.

Cobra is the fourth novel in the Benny Griessel series.  Like its predecessors, it’s a fairly high octane police procedural thriller, with a strong sense of place and nicely penned characters.  Griessel, along with his feisty female colleague, Captain Mbali Kaleni, are once again the stars of the show, along with Tyrone Kleinbooi, a pickpocket trying to pay his sister’s way through university.  In this outing, Benny should be happy, now off the booze for some time and having moved in with new love, Alexa.  But his sense of inadequacy with Alexa and the job is giving him the blues.  The kidnapping of a British citizen and the death of two bodyguards and a wine estate worker provides an welcome distraction.  When higher authorities try to push Griessel and his team to one side, it’s clear that they’ve started to investigate a case with international connections and local connotations.  For Kaleni, the case gives the strong whiff of corruption from the Apartheid era and she’s not prepared to be sidelined.  Tyrone is a pickpocket with a code who has chosen the wrong bag to lift a wallet.  The plot is pretty linear as Griessel, Kaleni and co try to track down the hitman, ‘the Cobra’, and Tyrone tries to negotiate a swap of the wallet for his sister.  However, Meyer skilfully swaps the narrative back-and-forth between the cops and Tyrone, providing a storyline that races along and was certainly difficult to put down.  However, the tale runs out of steam a little towards the end and halts quite abruptly, which was a bit of a shame.  Nonetheless, an entertaining read and I’m looking forward to the next instalment.  

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