Bestselling author of The Constant Gardener John le Carre delivers an utterly engrossing work in The Mission Song. The protagonist of this tale is a naïve British interpreter named Bruno Salvador. “Salvo,” as his friends like to call him, is of mixed heritage, his father an Irish Catholic missionary priest, his mother a black woman from the Congo whom he never knew.
The first disc of this audio production covers Salvo’s childhood. Orphaned early on, Salvo is taken in at a private school for the children of priests who’ve committed misdeeds. It’s here that he gets his education and meets his mentor, Brother Michael, who pushes Salvo into mastering linguistics. Salvo ultimately becomes fluent in many languages: French, English, Swahili, and several other African dialects.
Eventually Salvo makes his way to England and becomes a citizen of the land. In an effort to further integrate the multi-racial aspects of identity into British society, Salvo marries a beautiful white celebrity journalist named Penelope Randall. At the outset of the story, his marriage is in shambles and he is carrying on an adulterous affair with a nurse at a London hospital, a Congolese woman named Hannah. This romance/love story angle serves as a subplot to what is essentially a thriller.
Most of disc one is character buildup, but as disc two starts the thriller aspect begins to kick in. Salvo’s incredible linguistic abilities have gotten him work from legitimate covert operations and shadowy government entities. This time out, he’s asked by Mr. Anderson of British intelligence to go to some unnamed remote British island to interpret as the Syndicate and Congo warlords discuss the equitable sharing of the mineral-rich region (and getting the Africans to sign a contract to agree to the plan). This is supposed to bring stability to the much-maligned Congo, but things go awry.
The story then twists in a predictable way as the idealistic Salvo overhears things not meant for his ears. This knowledge becomes pertinent to Salvo as it questions his ethics, professionalism, and morals, for he has a personal stake in the outcome. Though the story centers on Salvo’s naivety, it ultimately rings a little false when he reaches his epiphany. But the quality of the work is still fairly high. The audio performance by David Oyelowo is very good; his voice is a perfect match for the material, and the audio production is top-notch. Overall, The Mission Song is a solid literary thriller sure to please existing fans of John le Carre.