Deon Meyer is a world-class writer whose page-turning thrillers probe the social and racial complexities of his native country. In Cobra, a famous English mathematician is kidnapped and his two bodyguards are killed at a guesthouse in the beautiful wine country outside Cape Town. It’s clearly a professional hit, and the spent shell cases offer a chilling clue: each is engraved with the head of a spitting cobra.
Meanwhile, in the city, a skilled thief is using his talents to put his sister through college. But he picks the wrong pocket, grabbing the wallet of a young American woman delivering something very valuable and dangerous to South Africa. The thief not only becomes the target of the deadly hit man known as the Cobra, but unwittingly holds the key to stopping a deadly international threat. It’s up to Captain Benny Griessel and his elite investigation team to find the pickpocket and track down the Cobra as the novel hurtles toward a brilliant, heart-stopping finale on the suburban commuter trains.
“Mr. Meyer, the leading thriller writer in his native country, traffics in crime-novel situations familiar the world over: drunken cops, charming robbers, dangerous murderers, sudden violence—and sometimes, issues of race.” —The Wall Street Journal
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The rain drummed down on the corrugated iron roof. Ten past eight in the morning. Captain Benny Griessel clicked open his homicide briefcase on the wall of the wide, high veranda, removed the shoe protectors first, then the thin, transparent latex gloves. He pulled them on, vaguely aware of respectful eyes on him, the uniforms and two station detectives who sheltered in the open garage beyond the curtain of rain. His anxiety and fatigue faded, his focus was on what awaited him here in this big old house.
The heavy front door stood open. He approached the threshold. The grey morning cast the entry hall into deep dusk, the second victim appeared as a dark, shapeless mass. He stood still for a moment, holding his breath. Considering the advice of Doc Barkhuizen: Don't internalise. Distance yourself.
What did that mean, now?
He looked for a light switch, found it inside, just beside the door jamb. He clicked it on. High up against the baroque ceiling a chandelier shone white and bright. It did nothing to dispel the chill. The man lay outstretched on the gleaming oak ïoor, four metres from the door. Black shoes, black trousers, white shirt, light grey tie, top button undone. Arms outstretched, a pistol gripped in the right hand. Mid-thirties. Lean.
Griessel warily stepped closer. He saw the bullet wound in the forehead, diagonally above the left eye. A thin streak of blood, now almost black, ran down to the right. Under the head, which was turned to the left, a puddle, thicker, saucer-sized. Exit wound.
He felt relief at the simplicity of this death, the swiftness of it.
He sighed, long and slow, trying to rid his body of this tension.
It didn't work.
He surveyed the hallway. On an antique table to the right was a light blue vase filled with a green and white mass of fresh arum lilies. On the opposite side, against the left-hand wall, was a hat stand beside an umbrella rack. Six old-fashioned portraits hung on the wall in heavy oval frames. Dignified men and women stared out of each one.
And at the back, deeper in, a sitting room opened out between the two pillars.
He made his calculations from the position of the body, the probable trajectory of the shot, so he could walk where it would least disturb the invisible blood spray and spatter. He stepped around and crouched down beside the pistol, saw the Glock emblem on the barrel, and after it 17 Gen Austria 9x19.
Griessel sniffed the barrel. It hadn't been fired. He stood up.
Most likely the shooter had stood in the doorway, the victim more or less in the centre of the hallway. If the murder weapon was a pistol, the casing would have been ejected to the right. He searched for it, didn't find it. Perhaps he had used a revolver. Perhaps it had bounced off the wall, lay under the victim. Perhaps the shooter had picked it up.
The exit wound meant the bullet would have hit the wall somewhere. He drew an imaginary line that led him to the sitting room.
He trod carefully, making a wide detour around the corpse, past the pillars, where he picked up the faint scent of burnt wood. The hall chandelier illuminated only a small track in the spacious room and it cast a long Griessel shadow, sending him in search of another light switch. He found three in a row, just behind the pillar, pressed them one by one, and turned around. Soft lighting. Thick wooden beams in the ceiling. Shelves against the walls, filled with leather-bound books. A huge Persian carpet, silver and blue, giant sofas and easy chairs arranged in two separate seating areas. Coffee tables, gleaming, golden wood. Too many lamps and vases, combined with the fussy wallpaper, all intended to create an impression of old-world elegance. In the centre, stately and impressive, was the great hearth, the embers cold. And to the right, just visible behind a dark blue chair — the shoes and trouser legs of the third victim. In the background, on the stark white passage wall, he saw a bright fan of blood spray, like a cheerful, surreal artwork.
Griessel noted the similarities, and unease settled on his heart.
The body in the passage had the same military haircut, the same build — broad-shouldered, with a lean fitness — as the one in the hallway. Also the same black shoes, black trousers, and white shirt. Another bloodied Glock beside a ruined hand. Only the tie was missing this time.
Another head wound, between the temple and the right eye. But the first bullet must have hit the hand — two joints of the finger lay rolled against the white-painted skirting board.
And then he spotted the two shells shining dully on the edge of the carpet in the sitting room. The shooter's, had to be, lying there within ten centimetres of each other. His mind started to play its old tricks; he heard and smelled exactly how it had all happened. The murderer was a shadow slipping through this space, pistol stretched in front of him, he saw the man in the passage, two shots, the hand was a small scarlet explosion. The intense agony, short-lived, before death, no time for fear, just the short silent scream into eternity.
Griessel let out an exclamation, deliberate and loud over the drumming rain, to suppress it all. He hadn't had enough sleep. The fucking stress of the past weeks. He must pull himself together now.
He walked carefully around the body, crouched down beside the pistol. Exactly the same as the other one. Glock 17 Gen 4. He sniffed. No smell of cordite.
He stood up, eyes scanning around him, and further down the passage he found the two holes in the right-hand wall.
He had to tread carefully, because the body, the finger, the pistol, and the blood covered the full width of the passage. He hopped from one foot to the other until he was over it. Bent down at the holes. Both bullets were there, buried deep in the plaster. That would help.
Then he went in search of the fourth victim.
The first room, up the passage to the left, had the door open, curtains drawn. He switched on the light. There was a suitcase on the double bed, open. A blue-grey tie, and an empty black shoulder holster lay on the dressing table. In the en-suite bathroom, shaving material and a toothbrush were neatly arranged. Apart from that, nothing.
He walked to the second bedroom. Tidy. Two single beds. A small travelling case at the foot of one. A jacket on a hanger, hooked into the handle of the dark brown wardrobe. A toilet bag hung from a rail in the adjoining bathroom.
He walked out into the passage again, opened a door to the right. It was a big bathroom, gleaming white, with a bath on ball-and-claw feet, a washbasin on a marble slab, bidet, and a toilet.
The next two bedrooms were empty, with no sign of occupation. The last one was right at the end, on the left. The door was open, the room inside almost in darkness. He switched on the light.
Outside the rain stopped abruptly, leaving an eerie silence.
It was a large room. In chaos. The loose carpet lay rucked up. The double bed was askew, the mattress and bedding thrown off. The chair in front of a beautiful antique desk lay on its back, the standard lamp on the desktop was overturned, all the drawers were pulled open. And the doors of the massive wardrobe stood wide too, a pile of clothes on the ground. A large suitcase in the corner, upside down.
'Benna!' A sharp interruption to the softly dripping silence, from the front door, startling him.
Captain Vaughn Cupido had arrived.
'I'm coming,' he shouted back. His voice echoed hoarsely through the huge empty house.
Cupido stood on the threshold in his long black coat, a new piece he confessed he had picked up 'at a factory shop in Salt River, for a song, pappie; classic detective style, the Hawk in Winter, I'm telling you'.
And as Griessel carefully negotiated the hall, he was suddenly conscious of his own crumpled trousers. The thick blue jersey and jacket hid his shirt at least. Yesterday's clothes. And Cupido wouldn't miss that.
'Howzit, Benna. How many are there?'
Griessel walked out onto the veranda, began taking off the gloves. The dark mass of clouds was gone; the sun was trying to break through, making him blink. The view was suddenly breathtaking, the Franschhoek valley unveiled in front of him.
'One of the farm workers is lying in the vineyard. There's been too much rain; I haven't been able to get there. And there are two inside.'
'Jissis ...' Then Cupido looked sharply at him. 'You OK, Benna?'
He knew his eyes were bloodshot, and he hadn't shaved. He nodded. 'Just slept badly,' Benny Griessel lied. 'Let's go and look at the one out there.'
The first victim lay on his back, between two rows of vines — a coloured man, dressed in what looked like a dark red uniform with a silver trim. Cupido and Griessel stood on the edge of the lawn, just four metres from the body. They could see the large exit wound between the eyes.
'He was shot from behind. And dragged over there.' Griessel pointed at the two faint, washed-out furrows that ended at the man's heels. 'And these are the footprints of the labourer who found him lying here this morning.'
'It's a brother,' said Cupido, and then, accusingly, 'In a slave outfit.'
'He works at the guesthouse. According to the —'
'This is a guesthouse? I thought it was a wine farm.'
'It's a wine farm with a guesthouse — '
'As if they don't make enough money. You're sure you're all right?'
'Did you go home last night?'
'No. According to the — '
'Was there a case I don't know about?'
'Vaughn, I worked late. You know how the admin piles up. And then I fell asleep.' He hoped Cupido would just let it go.
'In your office?' Sceptical.
'Yes. The station — '
'So that's how you got the call so early?'
'That's right. According to the station detectives, around about nine last night this worker was supposed to come to top up the firewood and check that all the guests were happy. When he didn't come home, his wife thought he must have gone out on the town ... Then the morning shift found him here. Then they saw the other one in the hallway. The trouble is, they say there were three.'
'Now you're losing me, man. I thought there were three?'
'There were three guests. Inside.'
'So there shoulda been four victims?'
'So where's number four?'
'That's the big question. The thing is ... We have three head shots, Vaughn. The other one in there was shot through his pistol hand andin the head, the two shells are lying this close together ...'
It took a second for Cupido to grasp. 'Jissis, Benna. Double tap.'
'On a moving target ...'
Cupido merely shook his head in awe. 'That's sharp shooting, pappie ...'
'What bothers me most: the last bedroom shows signs of a fight. Now why would a man who can shoot like that wrestle with a person?'
Cupido looked at Griessel anxiously. 'You thinking what I'm thinking?'
Benny didn't want to say it, the implications were serious. He merely nodded.
'There's a newspaper photographer at the gate, Benna.'
'Fuck,' said Griessel.
'Kidnapping. When last did we see that?'
'There's more trouble. Both the men inside look like ... If I think of their build, hair, the clothes, both carrying Glock Seventeens. I think they are law enforcement. Or military, or Spooks ...'
'You're kidding me.'
'And a man who shoots like that, faultless ... He's had training. Task force, Special Forces, Intelligence ... Something like that. A pro.'
Cupido turned around and stared at the house. 'Shit. Trouble, Benna. Big trouble.'
Griessel sighed. 'That's right.'
'We'll have to get moving, pappie.'
'I'll have to call the Giraffe. They'll have to manage the press.'
They didn't move. They stood side by side, heads bowed — Cupido a head taller than the stocky Griessel — mulling over all the implications, hesitating before the chaos that they knew would ensue.
Until Cupido, with the tails of his Hawk in Winter coat flapping in the icy wind, put his hand protectively on Benny's shoulder.
'Benna, at least there's one silver lining.'
'What do you mean?'
'The way you look this morning, I thought you must've gone on a bender again. But a dronkgat couldn't do it; you couldn't have figured all that out if you'd been pissed ...'
He turned and began to walk towards the guesthouse.CHAPTER 2
Tyrone Kleinbooi saw the aunty climb up into the third-class carriage, here where the Metrorail train 3411 stood at Platform 4 of Bellville Station, just before 8.50 on the Monday morning. She was clearly in her best outfit, wearing a sober headscarf, clutching her large handbag with both hands. He shifted up a little to make the empty seat beside him seem more alluring.
She looked at the seat, and at him, and then she headed towards him, as he knew she would. Because he looked respectable. Even features, as Uncle Solly used to say. You've got even features, Ty. It's a boon in this industry.
Industry. As if they worked for a company.
She sat down with a sigh, balancing the handbag on her lap.
'Morning, aunty,' he said.
'Morning.' She looked him up and down, taking in his tall, skinny frame, and asked: 'Now where do you come from?'
'From the city, aunty,' he said.
'And where are you going to?'
'You swotting there?'
'Then what you doing there?'
'Going to see my sister, aunty.'
'So what's she doing there?'
'She's swotting, aunty. B.Sc. Human Life. First year.'
'That's a grand course, nè? What do you do with that?'
The train lurched, and pulled out of the station.
'There's lots you can do, but she wants to become a doctor. She didn't make the selection last year, now she's trying to get in like this.'
'A medical doctor?'
'Ja, aunty. She's a slim kind, very clever.'
'I would say so. Medical doctor nogal. And you? What do you do?'
'I'm a pickpocket, aunty.'
She gripped her handbag more tightly for a moment, but then she laughed. 'Ag, you,' she said, and bumped her elbow in his ribs. 'What do you do, really?'
'I'm a painter. But not pictures. Houses.'
'I didn't take you for a manual labourer, but that's good honest work,' she said, 'for a young lat like you.'
'So where is aunty going to?'
'Also to Stellenbosch. Also to my sister. She struggles with gout. It's so bad she has to go and lie down ...' And Tyrone Kleinbooi, dark as full-roast coffee beans, and even-featured, nodded politely and listened attentively, because he really did enjoy it. He was only vaguely aware that the rain had stopped. And that was good. Rain was bad for his industry. Pickings had been slim this month.
The modern farmyard of La Petite Margaux was higher up the mountain, minimalist, stacked glass squares held in almost invisible frames of concrete and steel.
The German owner met Griessel and Cupido at the front door, clearly disturbed. A large, bald man with the neck and shoulders of a weightlifter, he introduced himself as Marcus Frank. 'It is a great tragedy,' he said, with just a hint of a Teutonic accent, as he led them to the sitting room. The ceiling was two storeys high. On both sides was a wide, impressive view over mountain and valley.
Two women stood up when they came in: one, young and attractive, the other, older — with an unusual, eccentric air about her.
'Captain Cupido, Captain Griessel, this is Christel de Haan, our hospitality manager,' said Frank, and touched the younger woman's arm sympathetically. Her eyes were red-rimmed behind the trendy dark-framed glasses. She gripped a tissue in her left hand and just nodded, as if she couldn't trust her voice.
'And this is Ms Jeanette Louw,' he said with an inïection that was just a tad too neutral, making Griessel focus more sharply, noticing the body language. There was something in the atmosphere here that didn't quite fit.
Louw stepped forward and put out her hand. She was possibly around fifty, with big bottle-blonde hair, a chunky frame and a strong jaw. No make-up, and she wore a man's black designer suit, with a white shirt and red-and-white striped tie. 'Hello,' she said sombrely in a deep smoker's voice, her handshake firm as she greeted the detectives.
'Christel and I will leave you now, at Ms Louw's request,' said Frank. 'We will be in my office, when you need us.'
'No,' said Cupido, 'we need to talk to you now.'
'I want to talk with you alone first,' said the blonde woman with an air of authority.
'Please. My office is just here.' Frank pointed down the passage.
'No. We don't have time for this,' said Cupido.
'Those were my people in the guesthouse,' said Louw.
'What do you mean "your people"?'
'Vaughn, let's hear what she has to say.' Griessel didn't have the energy for a confrontation as well. And he had picked up the atmosphere between these people. Along with the loss, there was friction, a certain tension. De Haan began to cry.
Cupido nodded reluctantly. With murmured words of consolation, Marcus Frank sent his hospitality manager down the passage.
'Sit down, please,' said Jeanette Louw, and took a seat herself on one of the angular couches.
Griessel sat down, but Cupido remained standing with his arms folded over his chest. 'What's going on here?' he asked, clearly not happy with the state of affairs.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Cobra"
Copyright © 2014 Deon Meyer.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have read all the Deon Meyer's English version books, the story line of this book is great, however, the ending is a little bit disappointed. I hope it will be better in the next one. By the way, if you like this author,13 hours is the best among others
While not as dark as some of Meyer's other books, his characters continue to be well drawn. I couldn't put this one down, and eagerly await the next.
Fascinating glimpse of South African society via police adventure narrative.
Benny Griessel, suffering the pangs of alcoholic abstention, rises to the occasion in this murder mystery after having pretty much messed up his career in the South African Police. He is a member of the elite Hawks, the nation’s top murder- and-crime investigating unit and is confronted by the killing of two bodyguards and the kidnapping of a highly respected British mathematics professor. Benny and his team learn that the murderer leaves behind bullets and jackets with the picture of a Cobra and the letters “BN” on them. The investigation is complicated by two factors: First is the presence of a young pickpocket who plays a crucial role in the affair. Then, the Hawks are called off by the intelligence services and even higher-ups. Nevertheless, the investigation into the identity of the Cobra proceeds and Benny proves his ability, as in previous cases. Deon Meyer has written several excellent earlier novels in the series featuring Benny Griesel, all set in South Africa. The author portrays the country, its politics and its history with accuracy. And in this novel, Benny attains a level of humanness not previously seen, especially in relation to his lover, Alexa. Can’t wait for the next one! Highly recommended.