'Eclipse' by Richard North Patterson

In his new thriller, oil and atrocities do mix

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Images of darkness permeate Richard North Patterson's latest, and not just the natural phenomenon of its title.

Although a solar eclipse shadows an act of mass horror in an African village, there's also the darkness of a soulless psychotic dictator as well as one man's despair as he faces a death sentence.

   
"ECLIPSE"

By Richard North Patterson
Holt ($26)

   

Those other threads come from something else that's dark and flowing throughout this legal thriller -- oil. Its production by an American company in a West African country called Luandia and the effects on its people fuel Patterson's plot.

Damon Pierce is a childless and newly divorced San Francisco lawyer who's grown complacent. He was once a war crimes prosecutor in the Balkans, but now he feels he's become too fat and happy making a lot of money at a prestigious law firm. He does some pro bono work but still wonders if his life has any meaning.

That will change quickly when he receives an e-mail from Marissa Okari, a woman he had fallen in love with years before. An American, she is now the wife of Bobby Okari, leader of a movement trying to change the lives of his Asari people and other poor citizens of Luandia who suffer environmentally and economically as PetroGlobal pumps oil out of the country's delta.

Luandia's corrupt government is run by Gen. Savior Karama, a sadistic and brutal maniac no one seems to want to rein in on his human-rights violations, lest he allow another country, say, China, access to the oil.

When three PetroGlobal workers are lynched just before a demonstration, Okari is arrested for the murders. Marissa pleads with Pierce to help her husband. He agrees and embarks on a dangerous journey to defend Bobby before a tribunal that's stacked against him.

To make matters more sticky, Pierce must deal with his awakened feelings for a woman married to a man Pierce respects.

Like an oil slick across a body of water, the tale can seem murky at times. For one, there's the complicated process of international law and how much one government can interfere with another.

The tension is very tight, and every turn requires complete attention as a slew of characters parades through the plot, including a diabolical colonel, a friend of Okari's who may not be trustworthy, officials who claim their hands are tied, and mysterious members of a well-armed militia group that supports Okari's message but not his nonviolent methods.

A lot of factions would benefit from Bobby's execution, and Damon must find the proof that Okari wasn't behind the hangings before time runs out for them both.

Patterson is definitely sending a message as he paints a grisly portrait of an oil-obsessed world that looks the other way while a kleptocrat continually violates his people's rights, as long as the oil is still flowing and terrorists are kept at bay.

Through the bars of his cell, Okari begs Pierce to tell the United States:

"What we need now is for Americans to understand how Karama and the oilmen force our people to live, and how your country has become part of it.

"It is not just filling your tanks with our petrol. It is a new imperialism where the government cares only that petrotyrants like Karama deliver you from the threat of Osama bin Laden and your disasters in the Middle East."

The really frightening part is Patterson isn't making this up. Bobby Okari is based on human-rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwi, who was executed in Nigeria by that country's dictator 15 years ago.

"ECLIPSE"

By Richard North Patterson

Henry Holt ($26))

"ECLIPSE"

By Richard North Patterson

Henry Holt and Co. ($26)


Karen Carlin can be reached at kcarlin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2588.


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