British diplomat Justin Quayle, complacent raiser of freesias and doting husband of the stunning, much younger Tessa, has tended his own garden in Nairobi too long. Tessa is Justin's opposite, a fiery reformer, "that rarest thing, a lawyer who believes in justice," whose campaigns have earned her a nickname: "the Princess Diana of the African poor." But now Tessa has turned up naked, raped, and dead on a mysterious visit to remote Lake Turkana in Kenya. Her traveling companion (and lover?), the handsome Congolese-Belgian doctor Arnold Bluhm, has vanished. So has Quayle's complacency.
Tessa had been compiling data against a multinational drug company that uses helpless Africans as guinea pigs to test a tuberculosis remedy with unfortunately fatal side effects. Her report was destroyed by her husband's superiors; was she? It's all somehow connected to the sinister British firm House of ThreeBees, whose ad boasts that it's "buzzy for the health of Africa!" John le Carré symbolically associates ThreeBees with an ominous buzz in the Nairobi morgue: "Over [the corpses], in a swaying, muddy mist, hung the flies, snoring on a single note."
The home office tries to take Quayle in out of the cold. He cleverly eludes their clammy embrace, turns spy, and takes off on a global chase to avenge Tessa and solve her murder. Le Carré has lost none of his gift for setting vivid scenes in far-flung places expertly described: London, Germany, Saskatchewan, Kenya. His sprinting thriller prose remains in great shape. And thanks to his 16 years in the British Foreign Office, his merciless send-up of its cutthroat intrigues and petty self-delusions is unbelievably good--or rather, believably so. This is global do-gooder satire on a literary par with Doris Lessing's The Summer Before the Dark.
But you want to know if The Constant Gardener is as good as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Very nearly. Africa's nightmare is more complex than the cold war chess match, and the world pharmaceutical circus is tougher to dramatize than the old spy-versus-spy-versus-spymaster game. Still, le Carré can write a smart, melancholy page-turner, and his moral outrage (the real subject of his books) burns as brightly as ever. --Tim Appelo
From Publishers Weekly
As the world seems to move ever further beyond the comparatively clear-cut choices of the Cold War into a moral morass in which greed and cynicism seem the prime movers, le Carr 's work has become increasingly radical, and this is by far his most passionately angry novel yet. Its premise is similar to that of Michael Palmer's Miracle CureDcynical pharmaceutical firm allied with devious doctors attempts to foist on the world a flawed but potentially hugely profitable drugDbut the difference is in the setting and the treatment. Le Carr has placed the prime action in Africa, where the drug is being surreptitiously tested on poor villagers. Tessa Quayle, married to a member of the British High Commission staff in corruption-riddled contemporary Kenya, gets wind of it and tries in vain to blow the whistle on the manufacturer and its smarmy African distributor. She is killed for her pains. At this point Justin Quayle, her older, gentlemanly husband, sets out to find out who killed her, and to stop the dangerous drug himselfDat a terrible cost. Le Carr 's manifold skills at scene-setting and creating a range of fearsomely convincing English characters, from the bluffly absurd to the irredeemably corrupt, are at their smooth peak here. Both The Tailor of Panama and Single & Single were feeling their way toward this wholehearted assault on the way the world works, by a man who knows much better than most novelists writing today how it works. Now subject and style are one, and the result is heart-wrenching. (Jan. 9) Forecast: Admirers of the author who may have found some of the moral ambiguities and overelaborate set pieces of his last two books less than top-drawer le Carr will welcome a return to his best form. There is a wonderfully charismatic and idealistic heroine, which will bolster female readership, and the appearance of the book shortly after the release of a movie of Tailor (starring Jamie Lee Curtis) is bound to create an extra rush of media attention. Be prepared for the biggest le Carr sales in years.
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