Onyx reviews: Eclipse by
Richard North Patterson
There are run-of-the-mill legal thrillers and then there are legal thrillers
that tackle enormous subjects that stretch beyond the confines of the American
legal system onto the world stage. Richard North Patterson's Eclipse has such
scope and ambition.
Bobby Okari is the son of a village chief of the Asari tribe from Luandia, a
West African nation very much like Nigeria. Okari was educated in America, but
returned to his homeland with his American girlfriend to raise awareness of how his country is being ravaged because of its rich oil reserve. The world is a
junkie for oil and Luandia is the criminal syndicate that peddles what everyone
needs. The cost of this illicit drug for Luandia includes ecological disasters
and an exploited populace. The proceeds never trickle down to the poorest people,
including the Asari.
A quote attributed to Winston Churchill says that nations do not have morals,
only interests. Luandia is corrupt at every level, from the megalomaniac
dictator, General Savior Karama, to his top general Okimbo on down. Nobody can
be trusted. In the post-9/11 world, Al Queda agents are perceived hiding behind every tree,
especially in the neighboring Muslim nations to the north.
PetroGlobal, the American company with the contract to drill for and export oil
has to play the corruption game to keep its monopoly intact. Even the American
ambassador and the State Department understand that doing
business in lawless Luandia requires moral blindness. Other countries,
including China, are willing to step into the void that would be left if
PetroGlobal were ousted.
The Luandian government doesn't appreciate the attention Okari is attracting,
but they can't afford to turn him into a martyr. When three oil workers are
lynched, the blame is laid at his feet. The pending trial is for the world's
benefit, and Karama's intentions for the trial violate just
about every international law in existence. Okari's execution at the end of the farcical
process is a foregone conclusion unless something drastic happens. This is a country, after all, where an entire
village can be massacred (during the eponymous eclipse) without the rest of the
world realizing it or the rest of the nation acknowledging that it ever happened.
paints Okari with the same brush as Martin Luther King, Jr.
or Nelson Mandela, but he allows readers to entertain the possibility
that he may have eschewed his pacifist ways. Other factions in the country
aren't afraid of using violence to create a new status quo. An entire
sub-economy exists independent of the government based on oil that is pilfered
from PetroGlobal's pipelines and shipped overseas.
Marissa Brand, now Okari's wife, re-establishes contact with her old friend and
former classmate Damon Pierce, a San Francisco lawyer who has just wrapped up
another case: his divorce. Pierce's affections toward Marissa were unrequited,
but they have maintained an epistolary relationship over the years. She adopted
Luandian citizenship and is fully supportive of her husband's cause, but she is
human and susceptible to Pierce's charms.
It takes a clever man to figure out how an American lawyer can intercede in a
foreign trial, especially one in a corrupt country like Luandia where
kidnappings and murder are part of everyday life. Pierce, who has extensive
human rights trial experience, fits the bill. On his first fact-finding trip to
Luandia, however, he gets a crash course in the country's dangers, especially
for foreigners. People who plan to make trouble for the regime typically
disappear. Sometimes their bodies are found, but it's a big country. Simply
getting from the airport to his downtown hotel is a military exercise. He is
appalled by the conditions of Okari's imprisonment, but has no leverage to
change the situation.
To say that Pierce is conflicted is an understatement. He wants to save the leader of a peaceful freedom movement whose issues are
supported, albeit passively, by much of the world. On the other hand, being
reunited with Marissa stirs up feelings. If he fails to win Okari's freedom, his
old flame will be a free woman. Okari doesn't help his own cause. His idealism
causes him to turn down deals that would secure his release
but would require him to abandon his movement and turn his back on
everything he stands for. In a complicated world like this one, there are no easy
answers, and Patterson doesn't wave any magic wands to get his characters out of
Writing a political novel laden with contemporary issues can be a daunting task,
because there may be a temptation to get heavy-handed or preachy. Getting inside
the convoluted intricacies of a quagmire like Luandia is also a yeoman's job,
and Patterson handles these challenges admirably. He has Nigeria as his
model, and a real-life case for inspiration—the trial and hanging of
environmental and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa in the early 1990s.
fears expressed by some characters over the possible global impact of turmoil in
Luandia on oil prices resonate strongly with the current financial situation.
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