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Eclipse    by Richard North Patterson order for
by Richard North Patterson
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Though readers might find the plot of Richard North Patterson's Eclipse in some ways reminiscent of his previous Exile (high profile lawyer rides to the rescue of the woman he has always loved, in the process exposing complex factions and horrific conflicts in another country), the significant differences in context, plot and politics make for an absorbing read.

The genesis of this novel about Luandia (as the author explains in his Afterword) 'lies in tragic events that occurred in Nigeria almost fifteen years ago, when a courageous environmental and human rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, was hanged by General Sani Abacha, the country's brutal and corrupt dictator.' Patterson goes on to tell readers that 'Saro-Wiwa's true crime was to protest the excesses of the government and petroleum companies in the Niger Delta'. He also tells us that 'The industrial world's need for oil has combined with post-9/11 concerns to make Nigeria a focal point in the need for "energy security"' and that corruption persists there. All worth considering while reading Eclipse.

Newly divorced San Francisco lawyer (specializing in complex international litigation and with experience as a war crimes prosecutor) Damon Pierce still loves Marissa Brand Okari, an African American whom he met many years before in a creative writing class, when she was already committed to Bobby Okari and his life work in Luandia. When villagers are massacred and Bobby arrested and accused of murder during a protest about oil exploitation ('Oil is dirty - as dirty as the slave trade') and genocide committed against the Asari people the night of an eclipse, Marissa calls on Damon for help, the two having kept in touch over the years. After consulting a security advisor and setting up contacts in Luandia, Damon flies out.

Gradually he learns of the complexity of this country that's under the iron thumb of dictator Savior Karama, assisted by Colonel Paul Okimbo, a mass murderer. He's told by local experts that 'the world needs Karama's oil too much to criticize his corruption and brutality.' So he can't expect much help from the Embassy - or he discovers even from Okari's supporters in a land where 'children become hostages.' Damon seeks evidence that oil company PetroGlobal's equipment and people were involved in the massacre. Since the Luandian legal system is controlled by the government (with a kangaroo trial planned for Okari) he initiates an international lawsuit against the oil company in the hopes of forcing PetroGlobal to put pressure on Karama to release Bobby.

But there are other players besides government forces and PetroGlobal. The FREE militia practices violent resistance and 'spouts high-sounding principles', but is also involved in oil theft, drug smuggling, money laundering, kidnapping, arms trading - and possibly also futures market manipulation for huge profits. As Damon (with Marissa's aid) seeks elusive witnesses and presses his case against PetroGlobal, it's not only Luandians who work against him but also high officials in the United States.

Richard North Patterson lays out all the factions - in black, white and all the shades of gray - as he moves his story to its foregone conclusion. While I do not consider Eclipse his best thriller, it's still a very good one. It deserves our attention not only for its modern relevance, but also for consideration of our own complicity in evils that happen far from our doors, but for which our excessive energy consumption is the catalyst.

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