Unfortunately, Elleston Trevor's (a.k.a. Adam Hall's) ill-conceived "Kobra Manifesto" begins by placing the ever-ragged Quiller in an uneven series of disjointed events that lead from one location to the next with little cohesion. This is quite an erratic and disappointing break from the masterful storytelling readers of the series have grown to expect. We go from a plane crash in the south of France, to a KGB break-in of Quiller's flat, to a car chase in Rome, to, most originally, an assignment that takes place during the US evacuation of Phnom Penh, Cambodia in April 1975. All this is abandoned before Trevor settles on what becomes an unbelievable kidnapping and hijacking plot.
It is often said of adventure series like this that the strength and credibility of each story can only be as good as its chosen antagonists. Unlike previous novels, the villains this time around are top terrorist figures from around the globe. Trevor seems as far off his game in his characterization of this group of "Kobra" terrorists as Quiller is in battling them. The rogue's gallery that eventually makes the rendezvous in Brazil has little in the way of an ideological bond - there is a vague mention of Arafat and the PLA, but only one of them is actually Palestinian. Likewise, the size and scope of Kobra seems to morph as the book progresses, sometimes being portrayed as a far-reaching global network that operates as a legitimate intelligence agency, but eventually settles on a clandestine group of six. Villains, characters, and the agents following them are eliminated or simply drop dead with little to no impact on the resulting plot.
Based on everything that even lay persons have come to understand about the nature of terrorists post-9-11, it becomes inconceivable that these mercenaries would ever have the will to put their own lives on the line for what becomes, a foolhardy, suicidal pact that stretches believability to paper-thin proportions. Moreover, it doesn't help that Trevor dismisses the intelligence of his villains and denies them any clever plot twists or saves. "The political terrorist is a man who could create new and better worlds if he could express his dreams with intelligence; having none, he can only express his frustration," Trevor writes. Though most would agree, the notion does little to add to the narrative. Satynovich Zade falls short of mastermind status and there is no one left for Quiller to adequately match wits against. Trevor struggles to make the scene realistic, but it is to little avail. It becomes too unlikely that an American Secretary of Defense would act this way (why call in the British in the first place?) and too much for even the looniest terrorist group to demand of him. What is left is simply a war of nerves punctuated by a series of gritty and violent events that ends abruptly and offers no levity or resolution to its numerous hanging threads.
It's a shame, because the narrative keeps providing interesting premises before abandoning them. For instance, the deadly scenario in Phnom Penh is uniquely exciting and the steamy romp with Shadia and its aftermath is a deliciously imagined subplot. The pieces though never fall together in any satisfactory shape. One keeps hoping for Kobra to work in a manner that pits US government interest against that of their British allies for an explanation of why all this was going on or for the Bureau to simply order Quiller to assassinate Kobra's hostage (leading to the kind of moral dilemma provided in the next book). Or, failing all that, for some explanation as to what Heinrich Fogel or Erich Stern had to do with anything. Ultimately, "The Kobra Manifesto" is simply Quiller penned on autopilot. In other words, it's a no go.