Playing with Cobras

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When British intelligence agent Philip Cass uncovers links between Indian politician V. K. Sharmar and India’s heroin trade, he is framed for the murder of the politician’s wife, who is also Cass’s lover. Readers know from the prelude of PLAYING WITH COBRAS that Cass is innocent, but British intelligence officials are not as certain. Peter Shelley, the new director of secret intelligence, asks Hyde to investigate Cass’s case unofficially. Hyde takes the case out of obligation to Cass, who refuses to speak to British agents in New Delhi because he is afraid that they are cooperating with Sharmar. Shelley and Hyde both realize that if Cass is left to local justice, he will be killed.

Once in India, Hyde masquerades as Cass’s cousin so that he is allowed into prison for a visit. Cass manages to tell Hyde where he has hidden some of his evidence and to give Hyde the names of two contacts. Hyde discovers that one of the contacts has disappeared, and he comes to believe that intelligence officials from both India and Great Britain want to shut off leads to Cass so that Sharmar is not implicated. Sharmar controls the police and military in India, and Great Britain’s government favors him to succeed to the country’s leadership. Hyde believes that British intelligence is willing to sacrifice Cass for the sake of maintaining friendly relations with Sharmar. When India’s prime minister dies, Sharmar becomes the front-runner for the position and Cass’s situation becomes even more precarious. Hyde fears that Cass will die while in custody, under the pretense of being killed while trying to escape.

The final half of the book shows Hyde gathering evidence against Sharmar and freeing Cass, setting up the extended chase that forms the climax. A subplot involves Ros, Hyde’s girlfriend, trying to get out of India with part of the evidence that Hyde had accumulated and turn it over to British intelligence. Her pursuit by Sharmar’s agents and Hyde’s violent dash for freedom with Cass provide all the tension and suspense that Thomas’ readers have come to expect.