In Eclipse Richard North Patterson cranks up the
heat, as it were, on an already hot-button issue: the world's shameful and quite
literally fatal attraction to fossil fuels. Thanks to Al Gore and his ilk we are
all aware of the damaging toll petroleum use takes on our planet's natural
environment. However, Patterson points out a fatal attraction in which the
bunny-in-the-stewpot is much more immediate it is the murder of tens (even
hundreds) of thousands of innocent men, women and children who have nothing more
to do with oil than to live where it can be harvested. They may or may not stand
in the way between world class avarice and its true love (oil). They may or may
not even pose a threat. No matter - they are expendable. Their lives, and
whether they live or die, don't mean a jot in the corporate and geopolitical
worlds where oil is more sexy than sex; worlds where the hunger for oil eclipses
Indeed, it is this callous sometimes calculating, sometimes unintentional disregard for the lives of the common people of this fictional African state of Luandia by nearly everyone portrayed here that leaves a nasty aftertaste that outlives Patterson's narrative. The layers of greed, self-service and corruption become oppressive. Sure, everyone is familiar with the ubiquitous demon American oil company whose stated goal is to make as much money as feasibly possible. If there is any doubt, check out a May 3, 2006 Matt Lauer Today Show interview with Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson in which that top exec admits same in so many words (a report on the interview can be found here). Add to that the local despotic leader, in this case Luandia's General Savior Karama, who seizes the opportunity to exploit not just his country and its people, but his own iron fisted hold on power. Then there are the local, lower level renegades who pirate crude oil for personal gain. In the meantime farmland and rivers are despoiled to the point where they become unusable and people starve for lack of a sustainable local economy.
The starving is bad enough but it is the peril in which so-called environmental activist Bobby Okari puts his people that seems most selfish. When he calls for a protest during a solar eclipse in order to prove a point to his arch-enemy Karama it is impossible to believe that he doesn't grasp the danger. He is not a naïve newcomer to social activism. He is not or should not be a dewy eyed freshman, inexperienced in the culture of violence that has plagued Karama's regime. Yet he disregards the real and present danger and risks not just his own life but those of his entire village, including his wife and father. When the risk deteriorates into a bloodbath he seems to feel little remorse.
It is interesting to note that by his more detailed portrayals of Damon Pierce, Marissa, Karama and mass murderer/rapist Paul Okimbo it is apparent where Patterson stands. Clear cut good guys and bad guys are de rigueur in any thriller. But Okari is painted with a broad brush. As much as possible his personality and motivations are closeted, leaving the reader to determine sainthood versus venality. It makes Okari a much more interesting character and adds depth to a plot that could dumb down to patent black-and-white simplicity.
Simplicity is something to which Patterson never succumbs, even though at times it might feel a blessing. But in the cosmos of Eclipse there are almost more strata of complex desire, motivation and intention than it is possible to track. And each desire, motivation and intention eclipses something else until no character is able to see things plainly. It is what sets a Richard North Patterson thriller apart from its competitors on bookstore shelves and keeps him hitting the New York Times bestseller list.
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This review is from the February 19, 2009 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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