VJ Books Blog

(Bee Book Club, Dec. 15, Allen Pierleoni)

“I write about the issues I care about, and I know it’s a luxury to have an audience for that,” said author Richard North Patterson, sitting in the living room of his well-furnished home in San Francisco’s Marina district.

He added: “On the other hand, there’s a price to be paid for writing about controversial things – not everybody loves you for it.”

Patterson, 61, a former trial lawyer, has been a best- selling novelist for 28 years. He does not write “legal thrillers” in the sense that, say, a John Grisham or a Linda Fairstein does (both are close friends of his). Rather, he addresses major issues of national and/or global concern through a cast of characters who end up in courtrooms one way or another, further illuminating those issues.

Patterson’s themes have included women’s reproductive rights, gun violence, the death penalty, the Israeli- Palestinian conflict and presidential politics.

Right now, he’s working on a novel about a military court-martial that involves a murder and a defense of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We’re now realizing the price the veterans are paying for being in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.

His new (and 16th) book, “Eclipse” (Henry Holt, 384 pages; on sale Jan. 6), is The Bee Book Club’s choice for January. On this outing, Patterson takes on the sociological, political and environmental catastrophes that oil wealth has brought down on Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa.

The plot: Answering the plea of a former classmate, San Francisco attorney Damon Pierce travels to Luandia (Patterson’s thinly disguised Nigeria) to help save her imprisoned husband from certain execution. Marissa Brand is married to the highly visible anti- government reformer Bobby Okari, who has been framed for the murders of three oil-company workers.

Once in Luandia, Pierce is shocked at the corruption running rampant in the government, among the militia and police, and within the international oil companies. After Pierce survives several life-threatening close calls, he finally is able to arrange for Okari to be brought to trial.

Yes, Pierce will defend the outspoken activist. He knows the world will be watching, but he also knows the stage will be set in a kangaroo court. Can he save the man’s life from a regime that wants him out of the picture at any cost?

Along the way, Patterson’s plot recounts his own edgy, first-person experiences in Nigeria, one of the world’s most dangerous spots.

“It’s completely wild, like Al Capone’s Chicago on steroids,” Patterson said. “Add to that the paranoid atmosphere, where you don’t know who is lying or telling the truth, or who to trust. Everybody’s stealing from everybody else. It’s pretty scary.”

Patterson will give a talk, answer questions and autograph copies of “Eclipse” for The Bee Book Club at 6 p.m. Jan. 15 at Borders Books, 2339 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 564-0168.

The Bee Book Club, which debuted in April 1997, has hosted a Who’s Who of distinguished authors of both fiction and nonfiction titles.

In addition to Patterson, our 2009 lineup will feature Harlan Coben (April 2, “Hold Tight” and “Long Lost”); Alexander McCall Smith (April 25, “Tea Time for the Traditionally Built”); Alice Hoffman (June 11, “The Story Sisters”); Kris Radish (August, “The Shortest Distance Between Two Women”); and husband-wife mystery writers Bill Pronzini (“The Nameless Detective”) and Marcia Muller (“Locked In”) on Oct. 22.