FICTION

Missionaries

Penguin. Oct. 2020. 416p. ISBN 9781984880659. $28.00. F
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DEBUT NOVEL Missionary is defined broadly as one with a mission, and the missionaries in Klay’s debut novel (after the National Book Award–winning short story collection Redeployment) converge in service of their various missions amid Colombia’s violent narcopoliticalalchemy. The result is a driving narrative that is hard to put down. While the plot is more than compelling, characterization is the novel’s strength. Klay spends roughly three-fourths of the book patiently fleshing out his “missionaries,” making them worthy of our concern. They have families. They have psychologies. They have closely held principles that motivate them. Lisette, a young, passionate war correspondent, is kidnapped by a shadowy faction, one of many such factions roiling in Colombia’s byzantine narcotics chaos. Immediately, the ironically named Jefferson, a drug lord and petty tyrant, physically grotesque, brutish, but with an unlikely and mercurial streak of compassion, is suspected. Colombian special forces commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Pulido and aided by U.S. Army Sergeant Major Baumerlaunch a risky rescue attempt in which not always the right people are killed.
VERDICT Incredibly detailed, based on research and the author’s personal experience, this work rises above the level of generic action-thriller to that of literary art, joining such geopolitical forebears as VassilisVassilikos’s Z and John le Carré’s The Mission Song.

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