For an 85-year-old guy who lives in the suburbs of Detroit, Elmore Leonard sure gets around. We’ve run into him in Miami, of course, and Hollywood, and many other points on the Western side of the compass. He’s probably just about as American as a writer can be. So, what on earth is the man doing in the northeastern corner of Africa, mixed up in a messy tale of intrigue and suspense about Somali pirates and Al Qaeda?
Leonard’s consummate skill as a novelist is rooted in his mastery of dialogue. Few writers can equal the fidelity of his characters’ conversations. In Get Shorty, Hombre, Out of Sight, Mr. Majestyk, and numerous other crime novels, Leonard has created a roomful of utterly believable and entertaining characters. Sad to say, though, he’s ventured out of familiar territory — and apparently out of his depth — with this foray into the Middle East.
Djibouti by Elmore Leonard ★★☆☆☆
If you want to read a story in which Arabs think and talk in ways that are hard to distinguish from an African-American from New Orleans, read Djibouti. Otherwise, don’t bother.
Maybe Elmore Leonard’s next book will be grounded safely back within the familiar confines of the United States. We can only hope.
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