John Le Carré

The Mission Song

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 August, 2007, 12:00am

The Mission Song

by John le Carre

Hodder, HK$115

The Mission Song recalls The Constant Gardener in several ways: it centres on Africa and employs a didactic approach that allows John le Carre to air political viewpoints that sometimes places the book on a lectern and its readers on pews. That isn't to say it isn't enjoyable. In his 20th novel, the 75-year- old writer shows he hasn't lost any of his dexterity in crafting an exciting narrative and moulding fascinating characters. His well-drawn protagonist this time around is Congo-raised, London-based Bruno Salvador, the illegitimate son of an Irish Catholic priest and a Congolese villager. Blessed with 'a mynah-bird ear and jackdaw memory', he's a natural linguist, fluent in English, French and several African languages. 'Salvo', who is married to a British journalist but involved with a Congolese nurse, is a hero with flaws whose naivety is both touching and hard to believe. Called away by British intelligence to work as an interpreter at a secret meeting on an unnamed North Sea island, he discovers that western business interests and African warlords are engineering a military coup in Congo. Torture and treachery are the result, prompting Salvo to try to set things right. Readers are rewarded with not only a riveting story but also insights into a country starting to capture the media's interest.