This rightly-named "Middle East western on water" takes off from Djibouti, a sweltering, downtrodden city at the lower end of the Red Sea. From this inhospitable port, documentary filmmaker Dara sets out into the Indian Ocean to make a movie that presents a sympathetic view of the pirates operating in the region. Accompanied by a towering, resolutely skeptical African sailor, she ventures into dangerous, unknown waters, heading into a tempest far worse than any weather. Trademark Elmore Leonard twists, turn, and wry current affairs commentary.
Leonard (Road Dogs) goes exotic with this eventually killer story of contemporary piracy set on the horn of Africa. Dara Barr, a documentary filmmaker newly arrived in Djibouti to make a film about pirates as a follow-up to her Oscar-winning Katrina documentary, and Dara's savvy friend and fixer, Xavier, stumble into a thicket of intrigue before the two are on the open water. Rogues they encounter include a "whirlwind Texas entrepreneur" sailing around the world; a crooked diplomat in league with a charismatic pirate, both eyeing a payday; and a pair of kidnapped al-Qaeda operatives, one an American citizen with a bounty on his head. Everyone has an angle or two, and once the plots stumble through an awkward first third, Leonard's hallmark breakneck pacing, crackling dialogue, and scalpel-sharp prose kick in. Seasoned Leonard readers will see some grays poking through--this at times reads like a quite good imitation of an Elmore Leonard novel--but it still beats the pants off of most of the competition. (Oct.)
Leonard's company of stock character types—the veteran law enforcer, the savvy professional woman, the seen-it-all sidekick, the horny billionaire—are so cool that they can confront international terrorism without batting an eyelash.
Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Dara Barr wants to make a new film about Somali pirates. Along with her grizzled factotum Xavier LeBo, she rents a boat and cruises the Horn of Africa looking for seafarers on every side of the law. While she's chatting them up and filming them, the Gold Dust Twins—Ari Ahmed Sheikh Bakar, aka Harry, and American-educated pirate Idris Mohammed—are scouring the area for terrorists, and billionaire Billy Wynn is in the neighborhood test-driving his latest girlfriend to see if Helene is up to the rigors of a topless sea voyage. The cast spends quite a while checking each other out—an extended period that will delight fans of Leonard (Road Dogs, 2009, etc.) and drive everyone else crazy—because they don't know that the catalyst of all the action has yet to make an appearance. He's Jama Raisuli, an American Muslim who together with noted al-Qaeda operative Qasim al Salah is removed from the tanker Aphrodite just after they succeeded in hiding enough phone-activated explosives aboard to blow the ship and its load of natural gas to kingdom come. When Jama escapes from his laughably incompetent Somali jailers, the countdown to Armageddon begins. Jama is determined to wreak enough havoc to make the strategic port of Djibouti a distant memory; Billy, convinced that the Aphrodite is doomed, is bent on destroying it himself well out of the port's range; Dara, realizing that Jama is executing everyone who knows that he was born James Russell, keeps filming while she awaits his inevitable approach; and Helene continues to suck up the salt air so that Billy won't have any excuse to put her ashore and move on to the next lovely spousal candidate.
Not your father's anti-terrorism yarn. Leonard's characters make James Bond look fidgety.
…an elaborately interlaced web of cons, crosses, goofs and intrigues; Djibouti, for all its travelogue aspects and newsy urgency, is not such a departure from the Leonard template after all. Everyone's an operator, the overall atmosphere is louche verging on alcoholic…and the principals gab, gab, gab in that meta-conscious, pop-savvy way to which Quentin Tarantino owes such a debt…It takes some hanging in there, but Djibouti winds up being a first-rate Leonard offering…
The New York Times Book Review
In Djibouti, Leonard slyly shows us what the old man can still do.
The Washington Post
…a book without a powerhouse plot but with plenty of the old familiar crackle…
The New York Times
In a major departure from his crime novels set in Detroit, Miami, and Los Angeles, octogenarian Grand Master Leonard (www.elmoreleonard.com) here tackles East Africa. Documentary filmmaker Dara Barr travels to Djibouti to make a film about modern-day pirates operating out of Somalia. Cognizant of the dangers involved, she nonetheless stumbles into a deadly plot. As always with Leonard, there are colorful characters—e.g., an elderly New Orleans seaman, a Texas billionaire, and an American al Qaeda terrorist—though Barr herself remains rather vague. More adept at style and mood than plot, Leonard takes too long to get things going. The slack pace, however, is energized by the narration of Tim Cain (I, Alex Cross), who employs a plethora of authentic-sounding multicultural accents. Recommended for Leonard aficionados and those looking for unusual treatments of terrorism. [Leonard "really cooks with gas here," read the review of the New York Times best-selling Morrow hc, LJ Xpress Reviews, 9/16/10.—Ed.]—Michael Adams, CUNY Graduate Ctr. Lib.