Tuesday, February 07, 2012
“Djibouti is a return to form from the old master”
Elmore Leonard’s 44th novel, Djibouti (£7.99, Phoenix), has for its backdrop the Horn of Africa. An American film-maker, Dara Barr, sets out to make a documentary about the pirates who prey on commercial shipping off the coast of Somalia. She quickly encounters a host of idiosyncratic characters: Billy Wynn, an eccentric Texas billionaire who appears to be operating as a one-man anti-terrorist secret service; the pirate leader Idris Mohammed and his Oxford-educated weapons dealer friend, Sheikh Ari “Harry” Bakar; and James Russell, an American-born al-Qaeda operative with designs on blowing up an oil tanker captured by the pirates.
A dialogue-driven yarn, Djibouti manages to be both blackly comic and rooted in the grimmest of realities, with Leonard also shoehorning in a measure of postmodern playfulness, as Dara and her cameraman, Xavier, provide a running commentary on the business of storytelling while they put together their documentary film. It’s a trick reminiscent of Chili Palmer’s Hollywood screenwriting experience in Leonard’s Get Shorty (1990), and Djibouti is a return to form from the old master that deserves to be measured against his finest work.