2011-06-02 / Opinions

Book Review



E lmore Leonard’s fans are accustomed to novels set in this country with a gangster or two involved. Djibouti has its share of gangster-types, but the reader and the protagonist are not sure for a while who the villains are. Leonard has written more than 40 books in his 50-year career, many best sellers, several movies and at least one TV series (Justified) based on his characters.

Dara Barr is a documentary filmmaker. She has come to Africa to make a film about Somali pirates, after several awards for her pictures. She is accompanied by 72-year-old Xavier LeBo, an African-American who has served on merchants ships and now is her cameraman. (Those who are interested in romance should not assume that the age difference between these two will be a deterrent for very long.)

The point of view moves between Dara and Xavier, with an occasional chapter through the mind of one of the possible bad guys. Idris is a suave, admitted (and proud of it) pirate. Harry Bakar is also smooth but also maybe a double-dealer. A wealthy Texan, Billy Wynn, is on the scene with his latest girl friend (who’s being tested for wifehood) in a luxury yacht. Most likely to do damage is Jama, an American who became Muslim in prison but who is faithful only to himself.

The plot does not pick up speed until well into the book. The reader has to learn about the characters, and Leonard chooses the device of Dara and Xavier’s telling events as they review the film they have made. The situation is complex enough to need explanation, but when things get moving, there is barely time to breathe.

Leonard’s style of dialogue filled with wisecracks and with unexpected twists of plot and characters works well with the exotic setting; the reader does not have time to be skeptical. Dara and Xavier will certainly be brave, but who will survive amidst pirates, Al Qaeda, the local police, and the U.S. State Department?

Djibouti is available in the Mary Willis Library.

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