RED SUNSET by John Stockwell


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Stockwell's non-fiction In Search of Enemies (1978) told of CIA activities in Angola--and the westerners-in-Africa detailing is the best thing about this uneven first novel, a limp love story surrounded by vivid scenery and sporadic suspense. The setting is Bujumbura, capital of emerging nation Burundi. And the main focus is on Natalie Wilson, Texas-born wife of alcoholic, philandering Donald, the new General Oil Company rep in Bujumbura. The marriage is long-gone on the skids; Natalie (mother of two small daughters) is a chess-playing, literate photographer who refuses to play the docile-hostess role. So it isn't long before she's involved with two other men in the claustrophobic diplomatic/corporate white community. There's a purely physical fling with Jerry Lineman, resident manager of the PETROCOM oil consortium. And there's a tender, slow-growing liaison with Soviet diplomat Alexis Kabin--who coaches Natalie for her upcoming chess match with imperious Zyl Van Genoop, a sneering, insulting ex-Nazi Boer and director of the Banque Nationale. Unfortunately, this affair--which is consummated at a faded lake/volcano resort (they dream of buying it)--becomes increasingly soppy, along with Natalie's clichÉd meditations on her self-actualization. (Stockwell does, however, have the lovers engage in some fairly interesting political arguments re neocolonialism, etc.) So the interest shifts instead to Stockwell's suspense subplot: gross, bloodthirsty Zairian army sergeant Ngandu (who leads terror raids into Burundi disguised as a ""mountain rebel"") decides to kidnap Jerry Lineman and hold him for a million-dollar ransom; and caught up in this scheme, against his will, is Jerry's house-servant Andre--who, after his wife is raped by Ngandu, manages to warn Jerry in time for a violent bloody rescue-showdown (which incidentally saves Jerry's shaky marriage). Throughout, Stockwell touches on intriguing Africa issues and provides ironic, crisp portraits of the arid lives lived by neo-colonials in today's Africa. The central story, however, is just the old one about star-crossed international lovers (though updated with some graphic sex), and the result is an initially engaging novel which begins to run down about half-way through.

Pub Date: Feb. 3rd, 1981
Publisher: Morrow