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.

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,