Review: Deon Meyer – Cobra

Deon Meyer writes very successful thrillers set in post-apartheid South Africa. He is most famous for Trackers, a book that bought Cobrahim worldwide acclaim and which was shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger in 2012. His books form a loosely based series with a set of characters that interweave through the narratives. His latest novel, Cobra, brings back Benny Griessel to investigate a series of assassinations.

A British scientist is kidnapped from a guest house on a Franschoek vineyard. The two bodyguards who were protecting him are found murdered along with the body of an estate worker. The most significant clue left behind at the crime scene are bullet cartridges engraved with the image of a spitting cobra. When another brutal murder takes place, with similar cobra embossed cartridges left at the scene, it is a race against time to find a small-time thief who has in his possession a phone that the killers want.

Unlike some of Meyer’s earlier books, Cobra has a straightforward linear narrative. The story focuses on the tension that arises when Tyrone Kleinbooi, a professional pickpocket, attempts to extract as much as he can from the circumstances. While this makes the narrative fast paced, it does detract from the quality of the investigation that we would normally expect in Meyer’s books. I would have preferred less focus on Tyrone and more on Griessel and his team.

Meyer is a great chronicler of modern day South Africa and he always maintains a clear eyed view of how justice works in the country. I enjoyed Cobra. It’s perhaps not his best book but still a tense paced thriller.

Thanks to Hodder for my review copy. Cobra is published in the UK on the 31st July. The translator was K L Seegers.

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Review: Deon Meyer – 7 Days

After I’d finished the excellent Trackers last month I had the choice of either reading some of Meyer’s earlier books or his latest, 7 Days. His most recent book won, mainly because of the tempting blurb and I was once more impressed by the plotting skills of this excellent writer.

The South African Police Services receive an e-mail written by a sniper who threatens to kill a policeman every day until the murder of Hanneke Sloet is brought to justice. Sloet was an ambitious young lawyer who was found murdered in her new apartment with a single stab wound to her chest. When a policeman is shot in the leg, it is clear that a sniper intends to carry out his threat and Benny Griessel is assigned to the reopened case. Greissel is a recovering alcoholic, with a girlfriend who is in the process of falling off the wagon. In seven days he has to find the killer of Hannah and keep himself away from the bottle, while his colleague Captain Mbali Kaleni tries to track down the sniper.

The idea of sniper targeting policeman is a bold premise and one that has been addressed in crime fiction before – most notably McBain’s Cop Hater. However, Meyer brings a fresh approach to the subject by linking it to an old unsolved murder investigation. As I would expect from Meyer, the book was well plotted, full of twists and turns as potential suspects were examined and then cleared. The murdered lawyer dominates the book, which shows the power of good characterisation as we only see her personality through the eyes of others.

Benny Griessel and his developing relationship with the singer, Alexa, form an interesting subplot. Like in Mons Kallentoft’s Autumn Killing, we get a realistic portrayal of the effects of alcohol dependency, although Benny seems to be coping well with staying dry. Captain Mbali Kaleni, the woman in charge of finding the sniper I found to be less engaging, perhaps because her backstory was developed in a previous book, Thirteen Hours, which I haven’t yet read.

This book had a different feel to Trackers. It was slower paced and without the multiple narratives that made Trackers such an unusual read. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable read with an interesting and surprising resolution.

I received a copy of the book from the publishers. The book has also been reviewed at Eurocrime,

The Best of September’s Reading

September was a busy month, with a move across Europe which left me with little time for reading. The books I did finish were mainly ones that I had been wanting to read for a while as I was looking for quality over quantity. As it turned out, it was a successful month with not a dud amongst them. As half the books were by new-to-me authors I now have the earlier novels of Deon Meyer, Max Kinnings, Nicola Upson and Christopher Brookmyre to catch-up with.

I also attended the History in the Court, an enjoyable event hosted by Goldsboro Books. As so often happens with these occasions I left with a mental list of new authors I want to try, including R N Morris and Robert Wilton.

My book of the month was in fact published last year to rave reviews and had been on my wish list for a while. Trackers by Deon Meyer is one of the best books that I’ve read this year and a thriller of the classic type. This engrossing read means that his next book Seven Days has been pushed right up my list and I’m hoping to read it in the next week or so.

The eight books that I read for crimepieces were:

1. Axe by Ed McBain

2. Trackers by Deon Meyer

3. Baptism by Max Kinnings

4. Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson

5. Sail of Stone by Ake Edwardson

6. Falling Glass by Adrian McKinty

7. When the Devil Drives by Christopher Brookmyre

8. The Blind Goddess by Anne Holt

Kerrie from Mysteries in Paradise is hosting a monthly round-up of all the recommendations by crime fiction bloggers.

Review: Deon Meyer – Trackers

Deon Meyer was one of the eloquent panellists at this year’s CWA Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. He spoke about crime in South Africa and his attempts to change misconceptions about the country. A summary of he panel can be found on the Eurocrime blog. I found Meyer to be a very engaging speaker but hadn’t yet read any of his books. However, I finished Trackers last week and thought it one of the best books I’ve read this year.

There are three distinct narratives in Trackers that make the book seem like three short stories. The first involves Milla Strachan who flees her violent racist husband and loutish teenage son for a new life. Although trained as a journalist, she gave up her career for her family and scours the job adverts for some work. She is recruited into the communications office of a government agency and is given the task of writing reports on various individuals. A screen saver on one of the office computers stating ‘Spy the Beloved Country’ gives the game away about the agency’s true nature. The second narrative involves Lemmer, a bodyguard who is hired to escort two endangered rhinos from Zimbabwe into South Africa. This seemingly straightforward job becomes dangerous when the party he is travelling with are set upon by armed men looking for some smuggled contraband. He suspects the accompanying vet Flea, who claims to have no knowledge of what the men are after. The third strand of the follows an ex-police superintendent Mat Joubert who has joined a private investigation agency. His first task is to find the whereabouts of a missing husband with a seemingly innocuous life.

The three ‘trackers’ of the title each have a different role in shaping the whole narrative. Milla is given the greatest profile in the book and her character cleverly weaves together the domestic and the organised crime elements of the story. She is portrayed as a modern South African woman who is fleeing the old order, represented by her husband, for a new life. But the suspicion and paranoia that characterised the apartheid regime hasn’t disappeared and Milla’s new found independence is put to the test when she meets a man whom the agency has been spying on. My favourite section of the book was that involving Lemmer the bodyguard. There is clearly plenty of back story to Lemmer and a quick look through other books by Meyer reveals he is the protagonist in Blood Safari. There were a couple of references to the plot of this previous book but nothing that impaired my enjoyment of the character. The final protagonist, Mat Joubert, can be seen as the conscience of South Africa. A former policeman he is clearly an honourable man struggling in the corporate ethic of screwing as much money as you possibly can out of your client. Yet it is the police force that he left which has contributed to the inertia and failure to investigate properly the missing husband.

All three narrative sections left me wanting more and I began to panic as I reached the final twenty or so pages that the strands wouldn’t come together. They did, but if I have one criticism of this excellent book is that I would have preferred the denouement to be slightly longer. But it isn’t often I read a book and immediately want to read that author’s back catalogue. But Deon Meyer is one such writer that I’m already looking forward to reading more of.

This book proved a firm favourite with many bloggers. Other reviews can be found at Petrona, Reactions to Reading, Mysteries in Paradise and The Game’s Afoot.

Thanks to Michael J Malone for recommending this author and giving me his copy of the book.