Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Cabinda Incident by Michael J. Ulissey

This historical novel is a win from GoodReads. I was interested in it because I enjoy reading stories set in different locations around the world, especially places I don't know much about. Also, this one is based on an actual event in Angola in 1985 when a group from South Africa was caught in an attempt to bomb Gulf Oil operations.

The story is the old one of a multinational corporation taking a third world country's resources and making obscene profits from them without repaying that country by making life better for its citizens. Unfortunately, it's an all too common story, but one that Ulissey is familiar with. He grew up overseas, then worked as an IT specialist for a major oil company in West Africa. He is a doctor and has served in the U.S. Navy as well. This background serves him well in crafting such a novel.

What he has here is a fascinating story, but it is a story in search of characters and sense of place even though it appears to be at least in part autobiographical. The hero, Ethan Archer, has no flaws and we don't really get to know him, or any other character for that matter. Everything he desires comes to him easily and the only bad things that ever happen to him are the deaths of his best friend and his father, but those episodes seem stilted, as though Ulissey doesn't show emotion well.

Ethan is recruited by the CIA and the book begins with he and his trainer Ed on a mission to meet with a rebel leader in the jungle. Then there are flashbacks to Ethan's childhood, before we settle into a chronological account of Ethan's life. By the time we get back to 1985 when he is 26 years old, it's nearly the end of the book. I had to skim the beginning again to remember what was going on but I was still confused.

You'll remember that I like learning about other countries. Here I never had a sense of a change in scene although Ethan travels all around the world. In short, I was very disappointed in The Cabinda Incident because I had such high hopes for it. I think Ulissey is a talented writer and I hope this will not be his last novel because I think he'll get better with time.

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