review, South Africa

Cobra by Deon Meyer

cobraCobra by Deon Meyer, translated by K.L. Seegers

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.

 

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15 thoughts on “Cobra by Deon Meyer”

  1. 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)

    Too right. I’ve wearied of this gambit too. It seems every other novel I pick up has this narrative structure.

    1. It looks like we need to start a club or send protests to publishers and agents 🙂 Sometimes the two stories work well together, but most of the time I clearly prefer one storyline over the other.

    1. Hope you enjoy Meyer, Rebecca. I wasn’t particularly fond of Devil’s Peak, but I’ve heard Trackers is very good. I’ve started skipping around in series more often this year.

  2. 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.

    You sold me on this book with that paragraph alone. Although, it’s good to know you enjoyed it too! I’m sorta tired of the overlapping past/present story line, too. I read one Deon Meyer about two years ago and wasn’t all that thrilled by it. I plan to give him another shot, tho. Thanks for the review.

    1. You’re welcome, Keishon. Have you read Trackers? I’m trying to remember whose positive reviews I read a few years ago (without resorting to Google), but I’m all for not reading every book in a series lately.

      1. Yes, I read Trackers and didn’t like it. Might be a review of it on Petrona (Maxine) and maybe Jose Ignacio? probably read it and reviewed it, too.

      2. Also, Trackers kind of combines/crams all of his characters into one book (big reason why I didn’t like it and really shouldn’t have started with that book) with a connected storyline. Meyer has fans all over. I’m sure someone will come along and frown at my comment and tell you to go read a positive review somewhere else. 🙂

  3. Delighted you enjoyed this , Rebecca. I think Meyer is one of my top thriller writers for exactly the reasons you mentioned. I like his character development too, even in novels like this one where they are not the main, central focus.

  4. I read 13 Hours and liked it; that’s it by this author.

    But your review and another have convinced me to try it. I need simple storylines, not
    a ton of characters or time periods. My frazzled brain gets even more frazzled when I’m
    tired.

    1. Thanks for another vote for other Meyer books, Kathy. I’ve been shying away from longer books lately too– I need something I can read quickly lately. It’s just my mood right now.

  5. I read his first book, Dead Before Dying, about a year ago and really liked it. Benny Griessel is in that one too. Perversely, I want to read them in the order that he wrote them, since he recommends that. And some of the characters overlap from book to book, sometimes. But I have to find the ones I am missing first. This one sounds very good; I enjoyed your review.

    I haven’t read that many overlapping past and present books lately, so not so tired of them. They are doing a lot of that now, though. I read a lot of old books that often don’t do that.

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