Rounded Rectangle: FACT BEHIND FICTION
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A section from

‘A Jedi shall not know hatred, nor fear… nor love.’ from Star Wars Episode II






A professor of Business Strategy in college was highlighting the difference between American and Japanese management styles with an illustration of how the written word in the two languages are read. The English language, he said is read and comprehended in a linear manner - sentence by sentence with the preceding one providing the connection and context to the next. Japanese, on the other hand is read in a linear way but understood only after taking the entire paragraph or section into context; more so than in the English language. Each sentence of Japanese was given it’s complete and nuanced meaning only if it is taken relative to all other sentences. The Japanese language, in his opinion had a very ’grand scheme of things’ undercurrent to it - sort of like Frederick Forsyth’s The Cobra.


While reading The Cobra the reader has to put together related but unconnected pieces of a large jigsaw-puzzle in his or her mind. In this book Mr. Forsyth leaves behind the much-discusses topic of terrorism; instead he zeroes in on the cocaine trade.


There is little introduction to the main characters but the research provides the drama. If you google Frederick Forsyth you’ll find out how he was stuck in Guinea-Bissau as he landed while a military coup was underway during his travels researching this book. The depth of factual / technical information in the book is testament to the time Frederick Forsyth spends researching compared to writing. The reader becomes an expert of sorts on the logistics, finances, planes, ships, fighters, political process, and so on of both sides of the war.


The cocaine industry is at least as fatal as terrorism, it has a social impact and is backed by sophisticated minds. These businessmen are not limited by ideology, they do not need to brainwash anyone to work with them (large cash incentives do the trick), and the do not care for governments - capitalist, communist or otherwise. This makes them a sinister, more personal threat. An executive brief of the industry in the form of the Berrigan Report comes early in the story to acquaint the reader with all aspects of the problem. The report is presented to the new president of the United States - never directly named but very cleverly established as Barrack Obama.


Paul Devereux is the Cobra. He first appeared in ‘Avenger’ as an anti-villain and I was a little disappointed when I read his name on the back cover; if any Forsyth point-man deserved a sequel it was Cal Dexter from ‘Avenger’. Unlike Devereux, Cal is an easier man to like; he is a former soldier grappling with his demons in his own special way. And among the many anti-heroes in popular culture today, Dexter is unapologetically straightforward - a luxury afforded to him by his complete lack of insecurity and his formidable abilities. A very Hemingway-esque laconic loner. So when I graduated from the back cover to the character list I was mighty pleased to see Cal Dexter written next to the words - Executive Officer, Project Cobra.


The Cobra - Paul Deveraux is properly described on the back cover but a more fitting description can be found while reading the main text: “He loathed political correctness, preferring courtly good manners to all, save those who were clearly the enemies of the one true God and / or the United States.” Devereux is physically present in precious few scenes but his influence permeates the meticulous plotting and actions that populate the pages.


Both protagonists are put in context with the following lines:

Paul Devereux ate as he did most things, sparingly, and his favourite cuisine was Italian. The dinner was wafer-thin piccata al limone, oil-drizzled salad and a dish of olives, helped down by a cool Frascati. Dexter thought he might have to pause on the way home for something out of Kansas, broiled with fried.


However it would be misleading to consider them polar opposites. Their upbringing differs; as do their philosophies, but this is due to their divergent life-experiences. Devereux finds it easy to justify and rationalize his actions with arguments which fight for the greater good. Dexter is more of a practical-realist whose wide experience and travels leave him a more accepting cynic: “Abroad is such a convenient place for violence.” he muses when faced with his ultimate employers differing appetites for destruction based on geography. Both Devereux and Dexter are cerebral fighters who prefer deep planning followed by calculated action for best results.


Devereux has been given a mandate by the President of the US to take down the cocaine trade, and Don Esteban and the businessmen behind the cocaine industry are his equally matched opponents. The cocaine trade has grown from a guerilla like business to a complex, streamlined, established and specialised operation. The authorities like the DEA (considered the ‘establishment’) are replaced by the Cobra who must now use guerilla-like cunning to combat the menace. To this end he decides to use anonymity to hit the trade where damage will wreak de-stabilizing and all-pervasive - their own paranoia.


Sun Tzu’s Ping Fa (Art of War) is referred to by the author and a practiced reader would immediately recognize the actions of the Cobra as textbook. Sun Tzu’s classic is addressed to the general of the army - in this case the Cobra, which partially explains the almost one-sided nature of battle once it began. Secrecy, the concentration of power, formlessness, discretion and a Hannibalic aptitude for conflict all make up the war-philosophy of Paul Devereux. With the resources of a superpower but without the democratic process and need for ratification of every itch and scratch can be a powerful weapon that would make any war one-sided.


While the Cobra’s plots are convoluted, the fundamentals of human nature that is his base is devastatingly simple and insightful. The life blood and purpose of the industry and it’s players are determined as greed and fear. Imaginative plans executed by unlimited but creative use of resources provide the content. It is Frederick Forsyth’s idea on how the cocaine trade can be broken, his speculation of the aftermath, and a game-theory decision tree on what could happen.


The Machiavellian Don Esteban who controls the trade from Colombia, has established the business with a Mafia Commission like structure . He has consolidated the industry that had become fragmented after the Medellin and Cali cartels disintegrated. The Don does this with force rather than guile or skill but nevertheless creates an organisation that deals with opportunities and threats like any large corporation would. He even keeps a board of directors with individual responsibilities, and each one is  controlled by the draconian laws that govern the cartel.


When the chips are down are the cartel is faced with a mortal threat the don is at his most dangerous. His circle of confidence shrinks drastically; but like the Cobra he has a real understanding of the economics of his business. The Don is the practicing general unlike the Cobra who has to be recalled from a content retirement, his bloody thirst for money and power are underscored by some very credible, implied threats; which more often than not do not precede retribution. The Don’s grip on his empire is weakened, but never lost.


Frederick Forsyth’s novels are detailed and factual; this one explain the economics of the cocaine trade and also speculates on what the economic fallout of a cocaine shortfall would do to society and the underworld. It is not expected but the bitter truth in his analysis is grounded, believable. says of Frederick Forsyth: His novels read like investigative journalism in fictional guise. His moral vision is a harsh one: the world is made up of predators and prey, and only the strong survive. But his works are also tempered - the conclusions are often never extreme, the victory is never permanent, and the enemy is never vanquished-only humbled.


Despite the moderate victory the novels provide closure to the story and reader by the intellect of the protagonist; the enemy may be alive but he is not kicking; and even if he is the hero has shown no signs of being unable to stay one step ahead in the game. To paraphrase Don Domenico Clericuzio of Mario Puzo’s The Last Don - Are there long-term solutions to any problem in life?




Cal Dexter adopted the guise of a birdwatcher on his trip to Guinea-Bissau in order to keep an eye on the shoreline for cocaine smugglers without attracting attention. Frederick Forsyth had passed himself off as a birdwatcher while researching the cocaine trade in G-B.


Must Read

Behind the Story (The Cobra) by Frederick Forsyth - ridiculous, hilarious, a humourous side we’ve never seen.


Also at


The Day of the Jackal: The Day of the Jackal is Frederick Forsyth’s most celebrated work and also what he is most associated with. Forsyth wrote only after thoroughly researching the topics involved in his stories because of his own disappointment with the authors’ lack of knowledge in books he himself read. However the depth of research in The Day of the Jackal inspired at least one assassin and one would-be assassin…


Avenger: Cal Dexter is a troubled man who addresses pain with pain. He channels the agony of his losses through his vocation. Not in the guise of a lawyer but as a former special forces veteran who has evolved in skill to address the problems that cannot be helped by governments. Dexter’s grounded approach as a soldier and as a lawyer has made him many friends of questionable repute but undeniable skill. And this is where Dexter (the dinosaur) mixes tech with old-school espionage.


The Dogs of War: Sir James Manson, Knight of the British Empire, chairman and managing director of Manson Consolidated Mining Company has all the money he’ll ever need. What he doesn’t have is the patience to deal with long and winding political methods to get what he wants. Not when he sees a potential ten billion dollars up for grabs. He has the resources and the methods and he intends to make full use of both. Firmly grounded in the realities of business and politics he knows ‘there was only one commandment, the eleventh, “Thou shall not be found out.’


The Way of the Jackal: Only a few people really know. Not even the real hero of the thriller finds out. But we are provided with a few sketchy details about him. He was a mercenary in Katanga (the Congo), and his skills and contacts obtained in that war enable him to become an ice-cold assassin. The Jackal came to choose his profession because of the adrenaline junkie within and love for the good life that money can buy. He quits a mundane day-job and dives into a life of cloak-and-daggers and sniper rifles. He is physically fit and a deadly killer even with his bare hands, and attractive enough to seduce at will in a kind of dark James Bond way. A thorough professional and conscious-less killer, he doesn't digress from the unspoken rules he has established.




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Never frighten shy game. Take the animal with one shot through the forehead. No mess. No misses. No half-shots. No wounding.

The Cobra

(James Cromwell played the role of Devereux

in Avenger)

The cover depicts two cobras staring down each other - two equally matched opponents - ruthless and dangerous but on opposite sides of the fence.

Cal Dexter: Executive Office, Project Cobra

Cocaine: labeled, branded & ready for merchandising.

Plan, section and photograph of the Blackburn Buccaneer that shot down cocaine cargo-carriers.

Colombia - the epicenter of the cocaine industry & home of the Don.

Devereux, Dexter & Don Esteban were well-versed with Sun-Tzu’s Art of War.

Devereux had spent his life in the trade of espionage. He had long-ago come to the view that the greatest intelligence-gathering agency in the world was the Roman Catholic Church. Through its omnipresence it saw everything. And the idea that over a millennium and a half it had never supported or opposed emperors and princes was simple amusing.