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Djibouti: A Novel Hardcover – October 12, 2010

3.0 out of 5 stars 145 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Exclusive: Joe Hill Reviews Djibouti

The author of the critically acclaimed novels Heart-Shaped Box and Horns, Joe Hill is a two-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award and a past recipient of the Ray Bradbury Fellowship. His stories have appeared in a variety of journals and Year's Best collections. Read his guest review of Djibouti:

In the spirit of Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Writing, here are ten reasons why Elmore Leonard rules–a fact that has never been more obvious than in Djibouti, his 48th novel.

10. The babes. The heroine of Djibouti would be one Dara Barr, who has touched down in Africa to make a documentary about the booming piracy business and maybe win herself another Oscar. Dara is as laconic and unflappable as any of Leonard’s finest heroes (see: Hombre, Swag, The Hot Kid), with a creative and curious streak that marks her as special. Throw in an underwear model named Helene looking to make a married man out of a billionaire who likes to play C.I.A. agent, and you’ve got a book in which the gents are waaaaaay overmatched.

9. The bad boys. Creative writing teachers who want to show their students how to draft an unforgettable antagonist ought to tear out chapter 18 and pass it around. That’s where Leonard tells us the story of James Russell, a clever Miami lowlife, who reinvents himself as Jamal Raisuli, al-Queda bomb-thrower… all in 7 pages of breezy, economical characterization.

8. The talk. Plenty has been written about Elmore Leonard’s mastery of dialogue, and I don’t need to rehash it. Why bother, when I could just quote some of it? An elderly terrorist, jailed in The States, gets talking with James Russell:
“What is it you hope to become in your life?”
“Famous,” James said. “I been looking at ways.”
“Become a prophet?
“I don’t tell what will happen. I do it.”

7. The walk. Everyone hustles in an Elmore Leonard novel; you can’t stand still and hope to score. From the slums, where life is the only thing cheaper than khat, to the clubs, where it’s easier to find a pirate than out on the open ocean, everyone is on their way up or on their way down… in a hurry.

6. The sound.
Leonard famously said that if his sentences sound like writing, he rewrites them, but don’t be fooled. These sentences jump to their own dirty, hothouse jazz rhythm. There isn’t a better stylist anywhere in American letters.

5. The seduction. Dara isn’t just curious about piracy; she spends thirty days on a boat with 73-year-old Xavier LeBo, long enough to fall a little in love with her best friend, and wonder if the old dude can still get it up. Xavier bets her ten-thousand dollars he can. It’s the book’s biggest gamble; trust me, it earns out big.

4. More boom for your buck. A lot of the suspense in Djibouti revolves around a tanker filled with enough liquefied natural gas “to set off an explosion a hundred times bigger than the Hindenburg disaster.” It’s an atom bomb with a rudder and all it needs is a target.

3. The place. Leonard doesn’t beat anyone over the head with his research, but from Djibouti to Eyl to New Orleans (the three backdrops for this story), the details are crisp, unforgettable, and right. You don’t read Djibouti. You live there.

2. The pay-off. Everyone in an Elmore Leonard story wants one, but only the reader is guaranteed to get one, and boy do they, in a final chapter that seems inevitable, yet comes as completely unexpected.

1. The know-how. Let’s get to it. In the fifty-plus years he’s been turning out lean, loose, laid-back thrillers, Elmore Leonard has cast his indelible stamp on American crime fiction, inspired his peers, and spawned a thousand imitators. He’s the kind of guy critics describe as old school, but that’s missing it. Elmore Leonard isn’t old school. He built the school.

(Photo of Joe Hill by Shane Leonard)

From Publishers Weekly

In Leonard's new novel, Oscar-winning documentarian Dara Barr and her 73-year-old assistant, Xavier LeBo, travel to the Horn of Africa to film Somali pirates. They get exciting footage, but Leonard, almost perversely, provides much of the action as exposition, with the filmmakers safe and sound in hotels or on yachts, discussing their adventures over champagne. This is not good news for thriller lovers, since thrills are in short supply. But it's tremendous fun for those who can't get enough of the author's snappy patter. For Tim Cain, it's a chance to demonstrate his ability to deal with pages of witty dialogue, and he shines, demonstrating quick vocal shifts, wide-ranging accents, and well-thought-out pacing. The result is a smoothly efficient, entertaining drawing room comedy in which not even terrorism is taken too seriously. A Morrow hardcover. (Nov.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061735175
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061735172
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (145 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,285,263 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. Horwatt on October 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'll preface this review by saying that I really like Elmore Leonard's writing. But this book is a mess. I blame the mess mostly on the way Leonard chose to tell the story, which has all the standard elements of an Elmore Leonard novel, just in bland disarray. The basic story is of a documentary filmmaker and her partner who travel to the Horn of Africa to shoot a documentary about Somali pirates. There are a number of what should be colorful characters, who for some reason mostly seem flat.

For some odd reason, Leonard chooses to tell the story primarily through the two main characters reviewing documentary footage that they've shot of the main events of the novel. So that takes a lot of the suspense out, and it's confusing and kind of annoying. I could see it working in a movie (which is maybe where this is headed) but in a novel it adds nothing and makes the story harder to follow.

And the dialogue, which is usually the highlight of any Leonard novel, is pretty bland in this one, as well. Very disappointing.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I've been a big-time fan of Elmore Leonard for many years and particularly like how he can spin an action yarn into a story that can easily be adapted to the big screen. Get Shorty, 3:10 to Yuma, Mr. Majestyk & Justified (the recent FX series) are just a few examples of Leonard's great skill as a story-teller.

Unfortunately, Djibouti is not a good example of what he can do when he puts his mind to it. While he is usually known for his terse prose and snappy dialogue the writing in Djibouti is choppy and disjointed to the point of incoherence. The plot also tends to be sloppy and unsatisfying. It comes off as if he couldn't decide whether he wanted to tell a story about Somali pirates or al Qaeda terrorists and ended up doing justice to neither. Major characters in the first half of the story fade to insignificance in later chapters and others pop up from nowhere and take over the story. An al Qaeda villain is indistinguishable in character from the two-bit crooks from one of Leonard's other books.

As I said previously, Leonard's stories do lend themselves to video adaptation and it's possible that this would make a fairly entertaining movie. As a book, though, I would give it a pass. There are so many good Elmore Leonard books out there that there is really no reason to settle for this marginal effort.
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Format: Hardcover
I am a HUGE Elmore Leonard fan. He is just the best writer of plot driven fiction there is; every thriller/crime writer nods his or her head to Leonard in their books: he sets the bar. This book is unlike anything I have read by the man. I am trying to read it but it has taken me 2 weeks to get to page 97. Nothing, I mean nothing, has happened. All of the Leonard trademarks, crisp writing with no flab, great characters sketched in one scene, a plot that is ingenious and organic to the characters etc. are missing. So far there has just been endless, boring, and seemingly pointless descriptions of the heroine, her computer, and the old guy she has with her. I can't read it and that is just such a shame. I have no idea what happened here but I hope Dutch is not down for the count. In a word: unreadable.
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Format: Hardcover
Will the real Elmore Leonard please stand up?

"Djibouti," Mr. Leonard's latest offering, reads as if it has been written by two separate authors. The first 130 pages of the novel are some of the dullest I have read this year, bar none; the last 150 comprise one of the most interesting thrillers I have come across in 2010.

The premise of the book is a good one. Award-winning documentary maker Dara Barr has come to Djibouti with her trusted cameraman to film Somalian pirates in the act of hijacking western ships and holding them for ransom. Xavier, her 72-year-old cameraman, secures a boat and the two set out on the open sea in search of a few pirates they can call their own. Dara believes, rightly, as it turns out, that even Somalian pirates want to be in the movies, and she is confident that she and Xavier can talk their way out of any trouble they might find themselves in.

But here comes the problem. Rather than show all of this lead-in action in real time, Leonard chooses to have Dara and Xavier discuss it as they think about how they will edit all the raw film footage they have accumulated. The resulting pages make for some excruciatingly dull reading - surprisingly, even to the dialogue between the two main characters. I say "surprisingly" because, as he reminds the reader in the second half of the book, well written dialogue is consistently one of the best things about an Elmore Leonard novel.

When the pair of filmmakers stumbles onto an al-Qaeda plot to blow up a huge liquid natural gas tanker at an LNG terminal in the U.S., and Leonard finally shifts to a real-time narrative, the book takes off and becomes the thriller I expected it would be.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This will be brief because I agree with many of the other reviewers. This book is a major disappointment.

I've read almost everything Mr. Leonard has written - from this early Westerns to, well, this book. Most of them are at least entertaining (I really didn't think "The Big Bounce" went anywhere, but that was written a long time ago).

This is a muddled story that never really goes anywhere, although the characters do travel around the world.

Two very specific points - and, I warn you, some may deem these to be plot spoilers.

The major character Billy is never explained. He plays a large role, he could be one of two or three different things, and then he just vanishes. Rather like the point of this book.

Second - although at least two principal characters are devout Muslims, they never pray. Never. This is a remarkable oversight. I've read that fire fights in Afghanistan stop for prayers. These gentlemen never roll out the rug and bow towards Mecca. How can this be?

Pass it up and dip into one of the many other fine books Mr. Leonard has written.
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