South Africa’s Captain Benny Griessel leads his team of Hawks (South Africa’s top police unit) in an investigation of the disappearance of a visiting British citizen and the murder of three others in Meyer’s latest mystery. But what begins as a kidnapping/murder case grows more fraught with threat and interference from outside interests as random events conspire against an easy resolution. Of course, such chaos is Meyer’s métier, violent crime in the midst of everyday life and the challenges facing a detective who is engaging both in his work and personal life. Meyers brings contemporary South Africa to life in a vivid tableau of a city on the cusp of economic recovery yet subject to the criminal enterprises of those who prey on the bustling population.
The antiquated investigative techniques of the last century fall short in an age where technology has changed the face of crime. Reluctantly or not, Bennie is dragged into a sharp learning curve by his team as they begin their investigation of the British man’s disappearance that has international implications and brings the local police force into conflict with the State Security Agency, their every action monitored and curtailed by forces higher up the chain of command. Despite international interest, the pressures from the SSA, the CIA and MI6, Griessel and the Hawks—under the supervision of Corporal Zola Nyathi—agree that they have one job to do: protect the people they have sworn to serve. While all have gotten caught up in the evolving intrigue, Benny in particular nearly loses sight of the elementary facts, the murders and the kidnapping, not to mention yet another spree of killings. The only evidence that the crimes are related are the shells left behind, each engraved with the image of a cobra.
Though the detectives appreciate the pervasiveness of international interests and world events, each scenario is played out among the common people, random deaths, and collateral damage done to those who stand in the way of “the Cobra.” Even the best laid plans are thrown into turmoil by the actions of a local pickpocket plying his trade, a complication that takes the bloodbath into the streets, the Hawks more concerned with the welfare of the public than the warfare of nations. It is this sense of mission that is reawakened as a troubled force makes a pact to follow through no matter where it leads.
After misleading information and the pushback of their own government protecting its secrets, Benny and the Hawks refuse to revert to the old ways of apartheid, a repressive, secret government without transparency. To this end, their private and very personal revolutionary spirit is charged with determination. The chaos, bureaucracy and repression of information of the days since David Adair’s kidnapping are cast aside as the Hawks—with the help of the pickpocket caught in the middle of the drama—pressure the deadly “Cobra,” a hydra-headed killing machine that runs roughshod through Cape Town and its surroundings, leaving a trail of blood and fear. Corporal Nyathi, Benny and the Hawks close in, colliding with their foes in a shocking, tragic denouement that renders Benny’s personal problems suddenly insignificant.
Meyer’s novels are never simple, always salted with the real challenges of a struggling post-apartheid South Africa peopled with characters yearning to quell private demons, a free country assailed by new threats and detectives whose private lives and careers bear the scars of poor decisions. In essence, South Africa is a microcosm of humanity in a modern world.