Author of spy classics such as ‘The Spy from the Cold’ and ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ as well as the brilliance of works such as ‘The Constant Gardener’ and ‘Absolute Friends’, John Le Carré remained a master in the study of human rationalization and character throughout his writing career until his death a few years ago.
Her 20th book, “The Mission Song,” written a handful of novels before her last, is usually no exception, but there is a caveat.
As with “The Constant Gardener”, Le Carré returns his pen to a tale set in Africa, proving as he did in the latter part of his career, that there was still plenty of intrigue and story to tell long after the fall of the Soviet Union. Union who once proved the antagonist thrust of all his novels.
In “The Mission Song”, readers meet young Bruno Salvador, a performer raised in British missions in Africa and now an undercover agent for British intelligence. His loyalty to his mixed African and British roots (also well illustrated by his love for a new African mistress versus the cold indifference of his British wife) is tested by a plot to create a new African regime that touts the illusion of peace and harmony, but will be built on the bloody violence of torture and a secret coup.
As with most of Le Carré’s books, this one is beautifully written, a detailed blend of human nature’s mixture of cruelty, nobility, fear and unrewarded courage. Although he was in his deep 70s at the time, Le Carré still writes about youth and contemporary times convincingly. But readers may be strained with this novel.
Much of this plot revolves around a conference in Africa. This conference is taking place over part of a weekend and it feels like Le Carré is covering the details of the conference in real time. Le Carré looks at everything realistically with a touch of romance, but there’s not much romance in a lecture. And he writes of the lecture of this story too realistically; Like most lectures, the majority of the lecture in this story will leave the attendees, i.e. the readers, feeling lazy.
But the book finds its bearings by the conclusion of the conference and draws readers into a conclusion that turns the page, but not necessarily exciting. For Le Carré fans, “The Mission Song” is an interesting song, but newcomers to Le Carré should check out his much better late novels or earlier classic works.