Djibouti by Elmore Leonard

Djibouti Book CoverThe death of Elmore Leonard spurred me on to read more of his books. The one book I had read earlier, Tishomingo Blues, was fun but not particularly memorable. I started with Djibouti because I’m always interested to find out how crime writers treat Africa.

The protagonists are Dara Barr, an American documentary film maker and Xavier LeBo, her cameraman, grip and man for all purposes. Dara is in Djibouti because she wants to make a documentary about the Somali pirates who had been destabilizing the sea routes around the Horn of Africa. Xavier has rented a trawler to take her to Eyl in Somalia, a town considered to be the stronghold of the Somali pirates.

Other characters include Harry, an anglicized Saudi who working as a negotiator for the International Marine Organization. Billy Wynn, a rich man sailing around the world with his would-be wife Helene. Idris, a pirate leader and playboy. And Jama, an American born muslim convert.

The action moves from Djibouti to Eyl and back to Djibouti. At first, the plot is meandering and not really focussed. Slowly, though, the story begins to gel and focuses on a possible terrorist act to be committed by al Qaeda affiliated terrorists who sought shelter among the pirates in Somalia. From then on, the race is on to stop the terrorists.

I liked the book alright. There were some very quirky characters. But it isn’t a favorite. The complexity of Somali piracy was reduced to a simple dichotomy. Dara believes they are poor fishermen who got the short end of the stick and try to get even by hijacking the ships that are violating their territorial waters. Xavier believes they are all crooks. Once the terrorism angle is added, even that level of complexity falls by the wayside.

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