Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Djibouti by Elmore Leonard: A review

Djibouti, Elmore Leonard's latest, may be unique in his oeuvre in that its main characters apparently do not have any criminal history. They are identifiable Leonard characters though with their super-cool, super-smart personas and their dropping of pronouns in their conversations.

Much of the first half of this book is taken up with conversations betweeen those two characters, Dara Barr, a 30-something award-winning documentary film maker and her right-hand man, six-foot-six, 72-year-old Xavier LeBo, able seaman, cameraman, schlepper and somewhat of a sexual athlete as written by the 85 year-old Leonard. Hmmm...

Dara and Xavier are from New Orleans and they met there in the aftermath of Katrina while Dara was filming a documentary of the catastrophe. That film won an Academy Award for them. Now Dara is interested in filming the modern-day pirates of Somalia, and Xavier, with his seafaring experience and all-round super cool, is just the man to help her.

The long expository conversations in the first part of the book take place after they have shot the action in and around Djibouti and they are looking at it on Dara's laptop and deciding how to edit it and whether it should be another documentary or a full-length feature film. Frankly, the book drags a bit during these parts, but finally, as we meet the characters in Djibouti, the action begins to pick up.

There's the successful pirate who tools around Djibouti in a Mercedes and may or may not be a good guy. Dara wants him to be a good guy.

There's the Texas billionaire, Billy Wynn, who is sailing around the world with a red-haired fashion model named Helene who is auditioning to be his wife. Billy has a gun fetish - the bigger the gun the better - and he dearly wants to blow something up.

Finally, there is Jama Raisul, formerly James Russell of the United State, an African-American who converted to Islam while in prison and who is now one of al Qaeda's operatives with a promising future. He, too, has vowed to blow something up. Something big.

How Dara and Xavier step into the middle of this combustible situation, film it and manage to (Spoiler alert!) get out alive, makes for a fast-moving typical Leonard story, once we get all of that annoying conversation out of the way.

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