DESERT BURIAL

Brian Littlefair, Author . Holt $24 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8050-6723-1

Welcome to the lower Saharan nation of Mali, here fictionalized in a frightening near future when "terror comes first" and "pity follows in time." This bleak, capably crafted debut novel describes a not atypical sinkhole in African geopolitics: a tiny, war-torn nation of displaced farmers caught between local strongmen's militias, and dying every horrible deprivation-induced death known to humans. First-timer Littlefair stirs the pot by crossing a disease-ridden refugee camp with a hermetic American scientist dowsing for a desert oasis, then really turns up the heat by layering the mix with a complex multinational race among the rapidly disarming Powers That Be to secure lucrative contracts for dumping nuclear waste. Of course, the camp (led by an aid worker named Lila with an overactive conscience) and its morose guest geologist, Ty Campbell (who traded the jungle for the desert after a horrific encounter that killed his wife), are sitting smack on prime dumping ground for an American-backed consortium of paramilitary types led by "Bud," the fixer, who recruits Ty to spy on the panel of competing outfits vying for disposal rights. Bud craftily knocks his competitors off one by one and faces down the local warlords (like "Fatso," an AIDS-ridden cannibal, or Mansa Muru, who "raises man-eating rats for punishment") with his own fearsome enforcer, a mercenary named simply "Mumm," who is "the kind of primate that decides who will eat, who will mate, and who will die." Industrial espionage, nuclear sabotage, and terrifying scenarios of ecological disaster are deftly mixed into a murky froth and cast a sharp light on Africa's bitter legacy of colonialism and Cold War–era manipulation, in which innocent civilians become pawns for ruthless locals and pitiless foreigners alike. (Apr. 11)

Forecast:Thriller readers are probably the natural audience for this hair-raising novel, though admirers of "literary" fiction will take to it. The author's personal experience working as a Third World investment consultant makes him a good interview prospect for news programs as well as literary programs.

Reviewed on: 03/18/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 308 pages - 978-0-9985742-6-4
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