Dec 23rd, 2010 by Thomas Stofer
Author: Frederick Forsyth
Title: The Cobra
Publisher: Bantam Press
Hardback: 397 pages
Publication Date: 19/08/2010
It’s incredible to think that Frederick Forsyth has been writing thriller fiction for the last four decades. In that time he has become known for writing novels such as The Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File, so it’s no surprise that he was inducted into the CWA’s Hall of Fame this year. Never a book-a-year author [thirteen fiction titles in thirty-nine years is a pretty low strike-rate], his latest offering, The Cobra, is his first novel since 2006’s hugely successful The Afghan.
The Cobra of the title refers to the codename/nickname for Paul Deveraux, a ‘retired’ US operative [he was forced from the CIA as his methods were seen as being too violent] who is given carte blanche by the new US administration to try to destroy the world’s cocaine trade. Enlisting the help of a motley crew of former associates, including lawyer-turned-bounty-hunter Cal Dexter [who, like Deveraux, previously appeared in 2003’s The Avenger], Deveraux sets up a task force and orchestrates a complex plan to try to try to bring down the South American cartels.
One thing that you can always be sure of from a Forsyth thriller is that it will be filled to bursting with very detailed and complex information about its theme – in this case, the cocaine trade. And, as a result of the meticulous manner in which Deveraux sets-up his campaign, the first half of the novel is virtually action-free. However, this isn’t a problem or in any way boring, as all of the facts and figures are completely fascinating and add to the book’s feeling of authenticity. That being said, it does make it a very different kind of read from the gung-ho thrillers that I am used to.
It should be pointed out that the one thing that does suffer in The Cobra is characterization. Forsyth certainly isn’t known for spending time building up the characters in his books, but I did find myself wondering what drove the septuagenarian Deveraux and why he was so callous and willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to achieve his goals.
But it is a small gripe in a book that felt incredibly contemporary – so much so, that the first half of the novel [prior to the start of the action] could almost have been part of a documentary on the cocaine trade. And the central construct of the plot – that the US & UK would sanction a no-holds-barred task force to eliminate the cartels – does seem a little fantastical [although maybe it isn’t – who am I to say?!]. Ultimately though, The Cobra’s blend of meticulous detail and action proves to be another winner from Forsyth.