Originally published as Kobra, 2013
Atlantic Monthly Press, October 2014
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.
Sometimes I feel like I’m lukewarm about quite a few books I read, and it may have to do with my energy levels going towards other things in my life besides reading, but this book, which I read just as I was getting over a bad cold, was just the thriller-jolt I needed to read to get out of the doldrums. I’m a fan of fast-paced, slightly preposterously-plotted books like those by Jo Nesbø, or big conspiracy thrillers like those by Alan Glynn, and after trying one of Meyer’s earlier books, Devil’s Peak, earlier this year, I began Cobra with lowered expectations.
Part of my surprise was reading a book that didn’t involve two overlapping storylines, one in the past and one in the present (I’ve read a lot of books like that in 2014), nor did it involve a strange prologue in the killer’s head or at the scene of a gruesome murder: this book, thankfully, began with the police arriving at the scene of a horrible murder. It’s a little strange to feel glad about that, but I was.
Benny Griessel, part of SAPS (South African Police Service) and a veteran of the police force during apartheid, investigates multiple murders linked by bullets etched with a cobra, and they appear to be professional hits. The overlapping storyline is told from the perspective of Tyrone Kleinbooi, a professional pickpocket trying to earn enough money for his sister to get to and through medical school.
The joys of this book were the compressed storyline, not too unbelievable characters (though characters are not the main focus here), and a thoughtful reflection on crime and levels of crime– crime that goes unpunished and crime that is prosecuted based on your economic status. It wasn’t overly moralistic, though, which is important. And finally, the extensive glossary and background information at the back of the novel was so helpful. Meyer and Seegers include lots of different slang and leave lots of language untranslated throughout the novel, but the definitions and background materials in the back flesh out the terms even more.