Thursday, November 23, 2006

Three novels and one short story collection among recent reading.

  • 98. The Mission Song, John Le Carre. Thriller, 11-12, p. 337
  • 99. I Sailed With Magellan, Stuart Dybek. Short Stories, 11-16, p. 307
  • 100. Paco’s Story, Larry Heinemann. Fiction, 11-18, p. 210
  • 101. Kidnapped, Jan Burke. Mystery, 11-20, p. 366

Le Carre’s most recent novel, The Mission Song, did not receive good reviews. This is a mystery to me. Le Carre is still capable of spinning a strong, compelling narrative – as he does here – and of giving the reader a brief, but instructive peek, into the unsavory world of covert action.

The Mission Song is told by Bruno Salvador, the child of a Catholic missionary and a Congolese headman’s daughter. A skilled interpreter of several obscure African languages, Salvador is recruited to participate in a top-secret meeting between English financiers and Congolese warlords. Salvador, naturally, learns that the coup planned by these two unlikely groups is not in the best interests of the Congolese people and sets out to stop it.

By necessity, Salvador is a na├»ve young man. The lessons he learns are also the reader’s lessons learned. It’s not giving anything away to say Salvador’s plans to stop the coup are unsuccessful. Thirty years ago, in an earlier book, Salvador and his African girlfriend would have been summarily executed, here Britain’s new anti-terrorism laws are brought to bear. The end results are less grisly, but no less insidious and disturbing.

I Sailed With Magellan, Stuart Dybek’s collection of short stories set in Chicago, are especially meaningful to me because I am currently in the midst of a four-month work assignment in Chicago and because the book was a gift from a couple who wanted to recognize that assignment.

Dybek brings Chicago alive in his stories. He is especially effective in conveying a sense of time and place. This is a delightful collection of stories.

Paco’s Story by Larry Heinemann is a haunting novel of a young man who is the sole survivor of a firefight. It is difficult to determine – and surely Heinemann’s point – what is most devastating: the injuries Paco suffers in the war or his treatment upon his return to America.

This book was the 1987 winner of the National Book Award for fiction.


Jan Burke’s Kidnapped is enjoyable – it is always a pleasure to invite Irene Kelly into your home – but it is far from her best work. The motivation behind the heinous crime in this novel seems flimsy at best and several of the characters are either cardboard constructs or just a little too clever to be entirely believable. If you can suspend your most critical faculties – say in the way you might enjoy a Bond film – then you will enjoy a few hours with this book.

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