The Red Cobra
Carl Logan dedicated nearly twenty years of his life to the Joint Intelligence Agency. Now living in a secret location, under the new identify of James Ryker, he wants nothing more than to be left alone, the chance to start a new life away from chaos, violence, destruction and deceit.
It’s not long, however, before Ryker’s short-lived idyll is destroyed when he is tracked down by Peter Winter, his ex-boss at the JIA. Winter brings with him news of the murder of a woman in Spain, Kim Walker, whose fingerprints match those of one of Ryker’s former adversaries who’s been missing presumed dead for years – an infamous female assassin known as the Red Cobra.
A cyberattack at the JIA led to the Red Cobra’s profile being compromised, and Winter believes JIA agents may now be at risk too, Ryker included. But Ryker knew the elusive Red Cobra better than anyone, and when he sees the grisly pictures of Kim Walker’s corpse, he has news for Winter – she isn't the assassin at all ...
So just who is the mystery dead woman? And where is the real Red Cobra?
This is an enjoyable and pacey read. Rob Sinclair’s writing and plotting is improving with each book and this first in the James Ryker series finds the reincarnated Joint Intelligence Agency (JIA) agent having more human emotions than the automaton that was the killing machine Carl Logan. I’m not sure I buy that his personality would change this much, but I’m happy to go with it as it makes him a more engaging character to read about. At one point we are told of the character: “he would never take a life when there was another option available”, which isn’t my recollection of his behaviour in the earlier series.
Ryker is brought out of “retirement” to track down an old adversary, although in truth Carl/James, after his initial reluctance, feels the thrill of the chase again, albeit in a less blood-thirsty way. The Red Cobra wasn’t in the Carl Logan series and although there are many references to his Agency days, this series can stand alone if you are new to Rob Sinclair’s writing.
Although this book is toned down somewhat from the previous series, there is still plenty of action to please readers who like a vicarious adrenaline rush. James doesn’t seem to have lost his edge, even though he hasn’t been in the thick of action for over a year (whereas I am ready to die from lack of fitness all over again if I miss taking the dog out for a walk for one day). Chapters are short and there are plenty of cliff hangers.
The writing could have been tightened up – it needed one more round of editing to eliminate some of the wordiness. A few small rewrites would have reduced the number of repetitions of names, e.g. “he” or “him” instead of “Ryker” when it was obvious who the phrase was about, and some sentence recasting to avoid the need for any of those options. The Spanish setting is well described.
There are really two stories running through the book. The secondary story could have been pared down a little. The denouement is an unwelcome surprise as there was no hint of it in the backstories, and to some extent it made one of the lengthy threads of the backstory obsolete. I’d have liked a few hints so that I could say “Oh, I missed that”, whereas it was never there in the first place.
Editorial Input & Design
I would have suggested less backstory. It takes us away from the action and is not all relevant. There is a lot of exposition – telling, not showing – and some of the writing is clunky. The reader is given too much information using too many words and with too much repetition of “Rkyer did this” “Ryker did that” when sentences could be combined and more judicious use of pronouns would have given a better flow.
I would have requested a change to the ending of the various threads, or asked for some pointers to it along the way. I think the ending will frustrate many readers and risk losing them for the rest of the series.
There are only a few proofreading misses and a few bits of punctuation that need to be changed. The tidying up that’s needed is at an earlier stage than this.
Cover: Quite striking, but you have to look quite closely to realise what it is.
Internal design: I read this on a Kindle. There is a blank page before the start of each chapter, which suggests styles weren’t set up properly. There were no problems apart from this.
Book Clubs & Reviews
This would possibly be a book for a book club. I’m not sure there would be enough to discuss about the book alone but it could spark other conversations.
What others are saying: Amazon UK readers give it 4.6 stars (145 reviewers); Amazon US readers give it 4.5 stars (163 reviewers); Goodreads readers give it 4.17 stars (1006 ratings).