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. Cobra is a first-rate thriller from a writer at the top of his game.
Whodunit: Spy who went out into the cold
Antaeus was the enemy. Antaeus is dead. MI6 agent Will Cochrane knows this, because he personally blew Antaeus’ car into smithereens. Yet, inexplicably, Antaeus has walked, very much alive, into the middle of Cochrane’s latest mission. In Matthew Dunn’s fourth Spymaster espionage thriller, Dark Spies, what should have been a routine babysitting assignment—watching over a “friendly” CIA agent during a clandestine meeting with a Russian mole—turns into a bloodbath. The terse message from Cochrane’s handler is “don’t interfere.” But if he doesn’t, the woman he has been assigned to protect will be butchered by an elite team of enemy agents. So, against orders, Cochrane methodically takes out the hitmen, an act of disobedience nothing short of treason. Now he must go on the run, make his way into the States, expose a conspiracy that reaches into the highest ranks of the U.S. intelligence community and, with any luck, save his own neck. Cochrane’s character neatly splits the difference between Ian Fleming’s flamboyant James Bond and John le Carré’s taciturn George Smiley, undoubtedly a result of Dunn’s real-life experiences as an MI6 agent. He performed some 70 missions and lived to tell (and write) about it.
Andrew Grant has been compared to Fleming and le Carré as well for his series featuring Brit intelligence officer David Trevellyan. This time, Grant returns with a standalone thriller (of the sort often referred to as “high-octane”), Run. To the casual observer, it would appear that software designer Marc Bowman has it all: lovely wife, check; six-figure income, check; young, clever, hip persona . . . check, check and check. Within 10 pages’ time, all of that changes, and not for the better: Bowman is fired and unceremoniously escorted out of the building; he gets dumped by his wife; and he is placed under intense scrutiny by good guys and bad guys alike, in part because of a very sensitive flash drive that he really should not have stolen from his workplace. Bowman is not an entirely likable character; he is more than a little bit smug, and he plays fast and loose with things that do not belong to him. Still, he is definitely getting a raw deal, and you may find yourself grudgingly rooting for him to come out on top (but perhaps to get his hand slapped in the process). As with the Trevellyan books, Run is brilliantly crafted and lightning-paced.
Even in violence-prone South Africa, you don’t expect a sunny weekend at a winery to end in multiple murders, but that is only the beginning of the carnage in Deon Meyer’s latest thriller, Cobra. The title refers to the nickname of a career hitman, whose crime scene signature is a shell casing bearing a carefully engraved Mozambique spitting cobra poised to strike. And, as you might surmise, some of these casings turn up at the aforementioned winery. A parallel narrative tracks the progress of a personable pickpocket who picks the wrong pocket. He is apprehended by the police and hauled in for questioning, during which time a lone gunman bursts into the interrogation room and shoots everyone in sight, save for the pickpocket, who barely escapes with his life. When the dust clears, on the floor there are several shell casings, each with the signature engraved cobra image. Chapter by chapter these storylines weave together in a French braid of deception, espionage and murder. This is another first-rate read from the king of South African mysteries.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
The cop is named Roger Frisk, a surname that detective Easy Rawlins finds pretty amusing. But Frisk is neither amusing nor amused. He has come to Rawlins with a proposition and a fat paycheck. A college student, Rosemary Goldsmith, has been kidnapped. Her father, a reclusive international munitions manufacturer, wields a lot of clout with the Los Angeles powers-that-be, and they in turn have a certain amount of clout with Easy Rawlins, who can provide entrée into L.A.’s black community, where the roots of the investigation lie. Walter Mosley’s 13th Easy Rawlins novel, Rose Gold, is set in the late 1960s, a turbulent time throughout the U.S., but nowhere more so than in L.A., thanks to the Vietnam War, the activist counterculture, the drug scene and race issues. Mosley’s mysteries have propelled our hero through the 1950s and ’60s, to a place and time where he has acquired a family (and “acquired” is indeed the right word) and carved out a place for himself in a relentlessly shifting society. As much social commentary as a suspense novel, Rose Gold is an eminently worthy addition to what is perhaps the finest series of contemporary mysteries.