cover image White Man's Grave

White Man's Grave

Richard Dooling. Farrar Straus Giroux, $22 (386pp) ISBN 978-0-374-28951-5

This is a galloping tale about a clash of worldviews, in this case between the insular West African Mende culture--complete with tribal politics and voodoo--and the pure red-blooded Caucasian American variety, with its highly rational citizens bent on ideological conquest, good deeds and the accumulation of cash. For all that heavy loading, Dooling ( Critical Care ) has constructed a deceptively simple story involving the disappearance in the African bush of Michael Killigan, a Peace Corps worker from Indianapolis whose father is a powerful wizard of the bankruptcy courts in the Seventh Circuit. A ``black bundle of tightly wrapped rags the size of a football,'' which has arrived at Randall Killigan's law office, eventually oozes blood and might be the cause of his bizarre nocturnal hallucinations. Calling on his considerable and well-compensated powers of analysis and suasion, Randall discovers that he is the recipient of African ``bad medicine.'' The State Department confirms that his son is missing. What follows is a journey far into the depths of African magic for the whereabouts of Michael Killigan. His boyhood friend, a not-always endearing naif named Boone Westfall, flies on a heroic rescue mission, only to further complicate the situation. Meanwhile, looking to buy answers, lawyer Killigan showers money and Land-Rovers into the African bush. Dooling's prose gifts are capacious: of a ``huge shirtless blacksmith'' working at a forge, he says ``he lifted something and the muscles of his back bloomed like the hood of a cobra.'' The book's language similarly expands to accommodate the bizarre and mind-bending mysteries of witchcraft upon which the plot turns. In the end, the book's lush satire cleverly obscures its simple, unarguable premise: that unfathomable rituals are at the heart of any culture, even in Indiana. (June)