Friday, September 16, 2011

An African Affair

No, I'm not quite there yet and no, I'm not having an affair. I did however, wake up at 5-something this morning to finish Nina Darnton's espionage novel set in Lagos, Nigeria. Years ago my friend Maryellen and I attended a session of the Sarasota Reading Festival at which we met a writer we'd not heard of previously. His name was John Darnton and he was touting a book called The Darwin Conspiracy. I bought it and kept my eyes open after that for anything by him. I'm sure I blogged about his second novel Black and White and Dead All Over, a wonderfully snarky take on the newspaper industry from which Mr. Darnton is retired.

Imagine my surprise to see a new book come up for purchase by his wife Nina. No slouch, Mrs. Darnton was also a contributor to the New York Times, Newsweek and The Post and lived in Africa for five years. Unfortunately, she knows whereof she writes and it isn't a pretty picture. In Africa, as all around the globe, corruption runs rampant at the highest levels of government.
Whenever you have a country that's ripe for exploitation, and we all know of Nigeria's ravaged oil fields, you have power grabs, tribal warfare and the ubiquitous presence of the CIA. Oh, and that's not to mention the aptly named mercenary organization Solutions, Inc. (better known to us as, let's see, Halliburton, KBR)

Of course, this all makes for great fiction. If only it wasn't so true. I suspect that our protaganist, Lindsay Cameron, is Ms. Darnton's alter-ego. In Lagos because she landed a coveted interview with President Olumide, a man who has promised his people free elections and a democratic society, Lindsay takes up with James, a slick, clever, cool customer who is ostensibly a dealer in African art.

Lindsay is passionate about her work as a journalist and Darnton does a decent job of getting the reader to understand what it's like to get that adrenaline rush when pursuing a story. But her best creation is the sinister James Duncan. I didn't trust him from the moment he was introduced so I had to wonder, why did Lindsay? He never made direct eye contact - don't you hate that? He never directly answered a question. He was always disappearing for days or weeks at a time and his cell phone was always mysteriously "out of range." Hmmmmm He was often sexually unavailable. Now THAT doesn't seem right.

After an inauspicious beginning, this thriller picks up big time. As assassinations pile up and Lindsay is twice attacked and warned off her stories, the reader has a more and more difficult time trying to distinguish the good guys from the bad. Perhaps that's because no one is really innocent of the blood shed in these countries where everyone has his own agenda and loyalty to tribe trumps loyalty to country. What Ms. Darnton, to her credit, won't let the reader forget is the "collateral damage," the children and families of those caught up in the struggle for a better, safer life, a life I'm afraid that we still take for granted here in America.

This will likely be my last blog post before I head off to Africa to learn about it for myself. I'm hoping for good Internet connections and will try to find time to write and post photos of this huge adventure. If I run out of things to say - laugh if you must - I'll write about our upcoming book discussions at my library. In the meantime, my latest book review, a very disappointed look at David Guterson's latest called Ed King, is on the Library Journal website for your perusal. It was difficult to believe that this was the same man who gave us Snow Falling on Cedars. You know the drill, scroll down to "G."


TooManyBooks said...

You will never run out of things to say!! Have a fantastic trip!

Sallyb said...

Ha, Ha, What would I do without your comments. We have a dinner date when I get back, right?

TooManyBooks said...

Oh yeah! Looking forward to it already!!

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