Cobra Clutch by A .J. Devlin- “Hammerhead” Jed is enjoying a banana milkshake (a milkshake is the favoured drink in his family) at the DQ with aging professional wrestler, Johnny Mamba. Jed is a bouncer and former pro wrestler. Mamba, the victim of a reptile-napping. is calling on a favour owed. His pet python, Ginger, has been stolen from his locker and a $10,000 ransom demanded.
Mamba is a hard man but everyone loves someone (something) and he will pay anything for Ginger’s safe return. It was touching, not a joke, that a snake could be so important in his life.
Jed had justly earned his nickname in the wrestling world by breaking a 2” x 4” board over his head after winning a match.
Aiding Jed is his cousin, Declan St. James, only a few years removed from Ireland. He is famous in downtown Vancouver for his ability to pour the perfect Guinness (including a shamrock in the foam) and picking fights when he has had too many Guinness.
Jed’s father, Frank Ounstead, a massive retired police detective owns the Emerald Shillelagh Pub and operates a private investigation firm.
Mamba is wrestling with the XCCW (X-Treme Canadian Championship Wrestling). While impressively titled the XCCW is far from the glamour and money of the WWE. Its wrestlers often perform in venues with dozens of seats. The owner, Bert Grasby, XCCW is shrewd and sleazy.
The members of the XCCW are a colourful group of characters. I have not watched professional wrestling for a long time. In Cobra Clutch Devlin portrays the matches as physical theatre. The performers work hard and frequently suffer injuries in their shows. With my background in judo I appreciated the skillful use of leverage.
Jed has a hard time getting anyone to take his investigation seriously.
Matters become very serious when a ransom drop goes badly. Both Ginger and Mamba are dead. Mamba’s throat has been slashed.
There is a brilliant scene of a necropsy (reptile autopsy) of Ginger. She died from ingesting a rare methamphetamine.
The lovely Detective Constable Rya Shepherd will lead the murder investigation for the Vancouver Police Department.
The busty Stormy Daze, Mamba’s ex-girlfriend and a XCCW star, is ready to be comforted over her loss.
When photos demonstrate Mamba was having an affair and Stormy publicly threatened the other woman Stormy rises to the top of the suspect list.
Jed finds the P.I. work more interesting than expected. He has been stoutly resisting his father’s invitations to join him in the business.
The violence is at an American noir level. There is a double digit body count.
The story flows easily in the tradition of the best tough guy P.I.’s.
There is deft jabbing wit. The bulky, oft banged up Jed is referred to as “McDreamy”.
Jed is self-deprecating. Explaining his appearance to a police inspector:
“Don’t let the shaggy mop and designer stubble fool you, bub,” I said.
“This is a carefully crafted look.”
I was reminded a lot of Sam Wiebe’s tough guy sleuth, Dave Wakefield, who also works the mean streets of Downtown Eastside. Dave and Jed would have a good time together.
In a cover blurb Sam described the book as “intense and cinematic”. I would agree. Cobra Clutch would be well suited to being made into a movie.
Devlin’s master’s degree in screenwriting and subsequent experience as a screenwriter are evident in the dialogue.
Devlin is an excellent new young Canadian crime fiction author. I definitely want to read the next in the series. (I would recommend a more attractive cover for his next book.)