Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Richard North Patterson's "Eclipse"

Recently divorced, California lawyer Damon Pierce receives an urgent message from Marissa Brand, a woman he once loved (and perhaps still does), asking him to come to the West African country of Luandia. Marissa's husband, an activist named Bobby Okari has been accused of murder by the corrupt, brutal regime that runs the country.

Luandia sits on an oil of ocean and lots of outsiders, Americans included, are anxious to get their hands on it. None of them are much concerned about the way in which Luandia's government exploits and abuses its own people. Nor do they care about the catastrophic environmental consequences of the oil production.

Pierce is determined to save Bobby and so becomes his lawyer at great personal risk. Patterson weaves a complicated web of intrigue that is at once scary and terribly disheartening, and by the time you finish the book, you want to swear off ever using a drop of oil again.

I have always been a huge fan of Patterson's work, especially his political thrillers, and I really wanted to like this book as well. There is a terrible earnestness about it; in addition to telling a riveting story, Patterson is obviously determined to open our eyes to the consequences of our addiction to oil.

And therein lies the problem, such as there is one. A lot of the book is spent in an effort to educate the reader to the situation in Luandia, which is a stand-in for Nigeria, and to the larger implications of our dependency on the resources of countries like it. In consequence, the book seems almost preachy at times, and it takes a fair amount for time for the book to really gather steam. Once it does, though, you can't put it down.

I'm giving this book three stars, which to me means that it's really very good, but not excellent. I respect the book's good intentions and it's an appropriate reminder of the fact that our continued addiction to oil--and to low oil prices--has a cost that goes well beyond that which we pay at the pump. And, once it does get rolling, it's very compelling. But I don't think it's as riveting as a lot of Patterson's other work.

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