Djibouti by Elmore Leonard
Djibouti is both a nation and capital city on the Horn of Africa. It borders Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia and is a fine setting for this thriller from the well-regarded Elmore Leonard.
Dara Barr is an Oscar-winning US documentary maker seeking the next big story. She decides that Somali pirates are the perfect subject matter for her new production. Somali pirates apparently like to party in Djibouti, and so Dara and her cameraman-cum-fixer, Xavier, set out for the exotic climes of Islamic Africa.
But their intended story becomes over-shadowed by a sequence of events that sweeps Dara and Xavier up and carries them into even greater danger as they fall deeper into the Djibouti criminal scene. They meet Texan billionaire Billy Wynn and his girlfriend, Helene, a wacky couple sailing around the globe to see if they’re compatible before marriage. Billy has an interest in pirates and terrorists and has been drawn to Djibouti like a wealthy moth to a flame.
Then there’s James Russell from Florida who has converted to Islam and is now a fully committed member of Al Qaeda. Russell is captured on board a gas tanker, which is essentially a huge floating bomb. He and his colleague, Qasim, have intended to sail the vessel to a US port before detonating. Yet, although both are committed terrorists, neither wishes to embrace martyrdom just yet. Their arrest is problematic for Al Qaeda, but Russell, or Jama as he becomes known, is a very determined and talented individual and manages to escape. He vows to settle all old scores before blowing the tanker just to prove a point.
Meanwhile, Dara and Xavier have gotten to the corrupt heart of the piracy epidemic. They discover that European power-brokers are informing the pirates of which vessels to target, for a commission of course. Dara develops some admiration for the roguish pirates and their way of life. She begins to appreciate the reasons for piracy in the first place, namely large-scale commercial fishing operations that have stolen the livelihoods of the coastal Somalis who have turned to piracy for a living.
But when some of these pirates arrive to kill both Dara and Xavier, the intrepid duo lose what sympathy they had for the Somali buccaneers. When you throw in the naval forces of the international community, who are hunting the pirates, and add in the CIA, never far away in any region where there is civil strife, you have all the ingredients for a great novel. Djibouti is one such book.
It’s not without it’s faults, however. The writing is slick but often with ambiguity, especially in the dialogue. It can be frustrating when it’s not clear who is speaking. There are some weaknesses in the plot but they do not interfere with the overall effect. The location is glorious and, as always, such settings can be educational for the uninformed reader. The characters are diverse and consistent. The pace is relentless and the entire story is fairly hip – if such a word can ever be used in this context. There are plenty of clever twists throughout, and the narrative weaves nicely across the Horn of Africa to an exciting final act.
Sult scale rating: 8 out of 10. Fast-moving, intriguing and informative. Djibouti is a rollicking ride into the world of piracy and terrorism in Africa. Rebel Voice wonders at times who the greater terrorists are in these far-flung and troubled regions. This novel is slick, very slick.
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