Book Review: Djibouti by Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard
William Morrow, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-173517-2

We have become accustomed to certain characteristics in an Elmore Leonard novel:  kooky characters, an offbeat plot, visual and visceral elements, and so on.  All of these and more are present in Djibouti, but somehow they are not amusing or meaningful.  The beginning of the book is somewhat slow and dull until you get to the ending and wonder what it all means.

We start with Dara Barr, a documentary filmmaker, winner of at least three major awards, including an Oscar.  For her latest, she decides to do a piece on the pirates who are upsetting shipping between the East and West off the Horn of Africa.  As she begins filming, she continues to wonder where the shoot is going.  So do we.

The characters, as in all Leonard novels, are colorful in more ways than one.  There is a pirate chief who has a Mercedes in Djibouti, along with a luxury pad and girlfriend; a billionaire Texan who sails half the year accompanied by an elephant rifle and his hoped-for wife; the black American convert to Muslim (done while he was in a Florida jail) who is an al-Qaeda operative; and other assorted offbeats.

While an entertaining read, the novel doesn’t seem to be up to the usual Leonard standard.  Perhaps because it was written with a movie script in mind (at least that is what it seems like to this reader). Still, it was written by the master, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2010.