Review: Frederick Forstyth – The Cobra

The CobraThe Cobra by Frederick Forsyth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The underlying premise of ‘The Cobra’ is sweeping. A thinly-disguised President Obama is told that a member of his household staff has lost her grandson to cocaine addiction. The President decides to hand the task of combating its smuggling to an ex-operative known as the Cobra who assures the President that, with sufficient resources, he can eradicate it completely.

The basic premise has holes, that much is obvious. However, that aside, and one inexplicable scene in which the Cobra first meets the White House official with whom he is to liaise and the official comes off as neurotically tetchy and ineffectual, (a scene that could certainly do with editing), this proved to be a great read.

Forsyth is a master of the plot. He formulates the various strands of preparation for the war on cocaine with spare but adequate exposition, maintaining interest along the way. As we move from strand to strand to strand and back again, there’s little that’s too blatant in terms of our being left dangling at the edge of the cliff and thus needing to keep reading. Instead, there’s a genuine fascination with each process that requires no gimmickry. I read this book in 36 hours given my wish to return to it again and again when I really ought to have been doing other things.

Character and action both are pleasingly realistic. In the hands of a lesser writer, the delineation here between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ would be clear and apparent, and the tendency to take the Hobbits vs. Orcs approach is annoyingly standard in such fiction. Not for Forsyth. He shows us the bad in the good, (admittedly more than the good in the bad which was a tad lacking), with collateral damage not only present but also, at times, carefully – even bloody-mindedly – underlined.

Thanks to that ever-present ambiguity – far from total, but at least sufficient – Forsyth is able to bring the work to as satisfying a conclusion as the flaws in the initial premise permits and in this instance, ‘satisfying’ has to mean ‘troublesome’. Even now, as I write, the ending places a different perspective on the entire work I’d not previously considered, (one I won’t reveal given the ‘spoiler’ effect but one which, upon consideration, may even serve to negate the flaw in the work’s overarching premise).

This is not a work for the ‘Gimme the good guys, gimme the bad guys, let good triumph over evil and don’t ask me to think beyond that’ readership within the broad genre. For me, though, saddled here in China with a pile of books not of my own choosing, ‘The Cobra’ proved to be a very satisfying read from a bookshelf over-laden with works broadly of the same ilk which are, all too often, paltry and ill-considered both in plot and in characterisation.

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