Venerable thriller master John le Carré returns to the fertile African ground he mined six years ago in "The Constant Gardener," this time setting his tale of Western duplicity in eastern Congo. With characteristic élan, le Carré takes a muddling idealist – a half-Irish, half-Congolese interpreter named Bruno Salvador working on behalf of the British spy service – and throws him neck-deep into the roiling waters of backroom political and financial maneuverings in the third world.
On the run and victimized by his own gullibility, Salvador's downfall begins with a mysterious assignment to provide his rare interpreting skills during a secret one-day conference between Congo leaders and a mining syndicate. "Each man has his vanity," Salvador tells us, "and mine is about being the one person in the room nobody can do without." Indispensability, it turns out, comes with a hefty moral price tag. Once aboard, Salvador learns his skills won't just be employed at the negotiating table, but also during intermissions – when the electronically bugged conference site crackles with intercepted private musings ready to be translated. Stirred by a whirlwind romance with an idealistic nurse and his own resurgent national pride, Salvador learns about disillusionment in prescient, captivating ways. The verdict: Top-notch fare from a literary heavyweight. Grade: A