A political thriller about strong-minded women and men, The Dark Path to the River tells a love story that moves between Wall Street and Africa.
Leedom-Ackerman's (No Marble Angels) first novel contains the raw seeds of a fine work unrealized. A promising themetwo journalists' personal quests played against the turbulent backdrop of African politicsis diffused by uneven characterizations and conflict development and flat, reportorial prose. Tough-edged yet vulnerable loner Olivia, a black journalist in a slump, and earth mother Jenny, insecure in the face of a second pregnancy, an unfinished book and a chasm in her marriage to a Wall Street banker, share a seminal past journalistic assignment in a politically ravaged African countryan experience that permeates present events, yet from which the reader remains psychologically distanced. Appearances at the U.N. by the Nations' Liberation Organization and fanatic despot Bulgawi prompt Olivia and Jenny to pursue NLO leaders Jamin and Nyral through a tame vision of New York's underside to uncover their mysterious financial backers. Haunted by unaired ghosts, Jamin and Olivia's stilted encounters poorly convey the tensions of their ambiguous relationship. As Olivia is pulled into the NLO plot at its climax, provocative questions of gender and racial identity arise that demand earlier dramatic grounding. Jenny's domestic conflict is handled with more conviction, though marred by a predictable love triangle. While touching a universal pulse, the conventional details of Jenny's protected world lack the imaginative spark that would make her seem less self-indulgent. More important, Leedom-Ackerman does not provide the compelling portrait of Africa that the story needs and deserves.