Elmore Leonard. Djibouti. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.
It's a long time since I read any Elmore Leonard. Beloved by fans of seedy detectives and dodgy con men, his lowlifes didn't appeal to me (at least until I discovered Carl Hiaasen). But this, how could I resist (exotic geographic appeal kicking in again)? So not the usual setting for most Leonard novels. Besides, I will be in Djibouti a month after I'm writing this and surely this would give me some local flavour.
Acclaimed documentary film-maker Dara and her trusted cameraman Xavier head for the small East African nation to make a doc about pirates hijacking ships in the Arabian Sea. They make friends with government agent Ari/Harry and Somali pirate Idris, although Idris is far from an intimidating type (hard to imagine a serious pirate spending time with her). They also make friends with billionaire Billy and his girlfriend who seem to be on a counter-pirate mission; Billy has a large yacht, a very large gun, and a Dr. Strangelove complex. Meanwhile two al-Qaeda terrorists have their eyes on a flammable cargo ship while they kill off people indiscriminately. With deadly results predicted, Leonard uses his main characters and dialogue to diffuse humour among all this mayhem.
It all promises a wild tale but I found the first half or so increasingly irritating as Dara reviews her film footage after her adventures — it's the only way we know, sort of, if any action happened — but it makes for choppy, disjointed sequencing (what is real time and what is on her computer screen?). And truly, Leonard's style of clipped dialogue only gets so much mileage. The last half of the book sets a straighter course of excitement.
Local flavour? Mais oui. My impression of the port of Djibouti and surrounding area is that it's crawling with impoverished, trigger-happy young hijackers habitually stoned and/or drunk when targeting rich ships (tankers are popular); they expect one capture will bring millions in ransom to set them up for life. Next month I plan to keep my life jacket on day and night.
Xavier sums it up:
"Djibouti, at the crossroads of us and the Arabs. Leave Djibouti, you in the Gulf of Aden lookin for pirates. Us and warships from around the world, all out there like we know what we doin." (33)
Can't trust a pirate:
She could hear the high whine now of the pirate skiff, streaking dead ahead toward the Buster.
Billy raised his glasses to see the pirates unroll a bedsheet and hold it taut, bow to stern. Arabic words painted on it in black. Billy picked up his satellite phone and dialed a number. He said, "Mustaf? This is Mr. Wynn," and read him the words on the banner. "Al Mount Li Amrikas. What's it mean?" He listened and said, "You shittin me? We were all good friends the other day." He listened and said, "No, I'll take care of it," and turned off the phone.
Helene said, "Well ...?""It means 'Death to Americans,'" Billy said, putting on his shooting vest. (101)
One-liner ― Unlikely reflection by an Al-Qaeda killer:
"Being a terrorist was a pain in the ass when you weren't spreading terror." (202)
UPDATE: My ship was not deemed worthwhile to hijack so the piracy alert drills and no-lights-at-night policy and endless loops of razor wire were for naught. On the other hand, dark nights at sea have a definite charm, Captain Phillips notwithstanding.
Mo Hayder. Poppet. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2013.
A slow starter here, into two separate stories that we know will mesh at some point. Detective Jack Caffery is on the job. Nice to see police diver Flea Marley back on the scene, although we have continuing fallout from her previous appearance (which I think was in Skin) — probably puzzling to anyone unfamiliar with Hayder's series (I needed a memory refresher too). All gets explained before your patience runs out. Whether the relationship between Jack and Flea might actually settle down is a cliffhanger but their missing-person cold case turns warm.
Then there are AJ and Melanie, two empathetic senior staff workers at a psychiatric facility where odd occurrences (like death) have everyone on edge. Here we go again; why do I get a run of mysteries with mental issues? An alleged paranoid schizophrenic brings the two stories together. Subsidiary characters are drawn with Hayder's typical imaginative flair. Definitely hard to put this book down once the speed gathers! No spoiler here, but the title image does not enter the plot until it's well underway.
AJ reflects on his nickname:
AJ. The name stuck. He is Average Joe. Average height, average age (forty-three), average salary. AJ LeGrande. It sounds like the name of some rapper. Actually, he has got a little black in him, from his grandmother, though you wouldn't know it: his dark hair hasn't got a kink in it, his skin isn't even coffee-coloured, more of a Mediterranean olive, and he's got one of those straight European noses. The one thing he'd have really liked is black-guy legs — long, strong footballer's legs, the kind Big Lurch has got — the sort of legs that make you look forward to summer so you can show them off. But he hasn't — he's got ordinary, hairy white-guy legs. What's the point in having a black ancestor if you didn't get any of that cool shit passed down? (41)