Throughout his successful career as an author --- with 11
consecutive novels making the New York Times bestseller
list --- Richard North Patterson has continuously tackled
controversial subjects, such as abortion, gun lobbying, capital
punishment and race and religion in politics. With his latest
effort, ECLIPSE, he has set his sights on both the world’s
current demand for oil as well as telling the story of an African
freedom fighter wrongly imprisoned by the corrupt government of
fictional Luandia, West Africa.
Bobby Okari is a human rights leader --- much in the tradition
of Nelson Mandela --- who is vocally active in his protest of the
despoliation of his people’s lands by American oil companies
and the military regime that plunders these natural resources with
complete disregard for the needs of their people. As a result of
his public protests, Bobby is imprisoned and must stand trial for a
crime he claims not to have committed: the murder of three
PetroGlobal Oil Company employees, an American company operating in
Luandia. Bobby’s only defense is American attorney Damon
Pierce, a former classmate of his wife Marissa, who Damon openly
still harbors feelings for. As Damon prepares for trial --- and
fights to stay alive --- he gets a crash course in the geopolitics
of oil and, in particular, how local corruption and violence
ripples through the global oil market.
The murders in question occur during an eclipse on Asari Day ---
a celebratory day for the Asari people, who Bobby and his family
come from. During a protest rally that Bobby leads, a massacre
occurs whereby most of the village --- including Bobby’s own
father --- are slaughtered by the local military. Bobby is arrested
for the deaths of the PetroGlobal employees, and the massacre is
labeled as a justified response to these murders and to quell the
dangerous uprising Bobby is responsible for during the eclipse. An
email from Marissa to Damon advises him of these proceedings and
urges his help. Against the better judgment of his own law firm,
Damon takes the case and leaves California for a flight to
dangerous and volatile Luandia.
Damon has his eyes opened quickly as he is indoctrinated by the
local U.S. Embassy and some of Bobby’s supporters into the
inner workings of the Luandian government, its tyrannical leader,
General Savior Karama, and the local oil industry. Damon finds that
in the post-9/11 world, the voracity for oil has focused global
attention on the Luanadian Delta. With no programs to wean
countries like the U.S. off the need for foreign oil, and with a
need to avoid terrorist-ridden Middle East countries like
nuclear-empowered Iran, the Luandian Delta offers an easy
substitute to sate the global thirst for oil. As a result of these
facts, Damon realizes that there is a web of countries, companies
and public interests that do not need anything to jeopardize
PetroGlobal’s work in Luandia. Therefore, Bobby is likely to
be a sacrificial lamb for all of these interests.
Damon begins by attacking PetroGlobal directly in an effort to
show their complicity and assistance in the massacre on Asari Day.
Once he has established these grounds, the next hurdle is to face a
three-judge tribunal in Luandia to fight for Bobby’s release.
The Luandian government, on the other hand, seeks swift justice of
their own and wants to hang Bobby as soon as possible since he is
seen as a secessionist threat. Damon is facing a stacked deck, and
the novel continues to introduce more and more roadblocks for him
in his defense of Bobby. Additionally, Damon must continue to
battle his own feelings for Marissa and the realization that he
came to Luandia for her and not necessarily out of an obligation to
defend her husband’s rights.
At times, ECLIPSE weighs you down with so many plot elements and
twists, along with the foreboding sense of impending doom, that it
is tough to see any light at the end of the tunnel. Thankfully,
Patterson does not pull any punches and delivers a taut and
suspenseful novel that handles the inevitable outcome
realistically. In his acknowledgements, the author reveals that the
impetus for the book came from the real-life case of courageous
environmental and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who had been
hung by the corrupt General Sani Abacha 15 years ago in Nigeria.
Reading this eye-opening afterword definitely gives a greater
respect for the tough subject matter Patterson has gracefully
handled in ECLIPSE.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on June 2, 2011