I regularly grumble that even though I like them I’m going to stop reading thrillers all together because it is too hard to find the good ones and I’m utterly fed up with the deluge of crap offerings that stray across my path. But Deon Meyer’s books are the proverbial exception to the rule and COBRA is yet another masterclass in how it ought to be done.
The Hawks, an elite squad within the South African Police Service, are pitted against a hired assassin who has kidnapped English man on South African soil. In a thread which eventually intertwines we also follow the adventures of a young pickpocket who chooses exactly the wrong target one Tuesday morning. Although more traditionally linear than Meyer’s last couple of books the story here unfolds as compellingly as always and there’s no such thing as a dull moment despite a dearth of the explosions, car chases and preposterous heroics that lesser novels are full of.
There is another layer of storytelling that kind of creeps up on the reader. Meyer is never didactic but through his characters, locations, language and the events he chooses to depict he is telling the story of modern South Africa. One of the characters here makes mention of the fact that the Hawks squad is like a walking United Nations: Benny Griessel is in charge of the case – or cases as they become. He is an Afrikaner and the only member of the squad who was a policeman in the bad old days. A fact which haunts him particularly hard in this novel. The team includes a Zulu woman, Mbali, whose parents were active in the struggle to end the old regime and this heritage plays a significant role in the direction of the novel when the Security Service wants to take over the case. Then there’s Cupido, a mixed race man who grew up in one of the most impoverished areas of Cape Town but is now a snazzy-dressing, tech-savvy cop with an eye for the ladies. There is friction between the disparate group but not always from the direction you might expect and the team manages to function despite it. Or perhaps because of it.
The diversity of characters results in the novel’s dialogue being a mixture of at least four of the country’s 11 official languages which makes it a particularly good choice for audio book lovers. I don’t know if Saul Reichlin is a South African or just plays one brilliantly but I could listen to him read Meyer’s multilingual stories forever.
COBRA is at once fast, funny, dramatic and sweet. Although it is very modern in its subject matter and plot devices (crucial elements hinge on mobile phones for example) it reminded me of the great thrillers of the 70’s like Frederick Forsyth’s THE DAY OF THE JACKAL and more because of the way realistic world politics is woven intricately into the plot than because both novels feature assassins. It’s a ripper of a read and highly recommended.
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Narrator Saul Reichlin
Translator K.L. Seegers
Publisher Hodder & Stoughton 
Length 12 hours 45 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series 4th novel to feature Benny Griessel
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