The Constant Gardener by John le Carre

Author John le Carre puts his experience with the British Foreign Service to good use in his British spy novels.

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The Constant Gardener by John le Carre


  • Hardcover: 480 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.75 x 9.50 x 6.50
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (December 12, 2000)
  • ISBN: 0743215052
    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

    Book Description

    Frightening, heartbreaking, and exquisitely calibrated, John le Carré's new novel opens with the gruesome murder of the young and beautiful Tessa Quayle near northern Kenya's Lake Turkana, the birthplace of mankind. Her putative African lover and traveling companion, a doctor with one of the aid agencies, has vanished from the scene of the crime. Tessa's much older husband, Justin, a career diplomat at the British High Commission in Nairobi, sets out on a personal odyssey in pursuit of the killers and their motive.

    A master chronicler of the deceptions and betrayals of ordinary people caught in political conflict, le Carré portrays, in The Constant Gardener, the dark side of unbridled capitalism. His eighteenth novel is also the profoundly moving story of a man whom tragedy elevates. Justin Quayle, amateur gardener and ineffectual bureaucrat, seemingly oblivious to his wife's cause, discovers his own resources and the extraordinary courage of the woman he barely had time to love.

    The Constant Gardener is a magnificent exploration of the new world order by one of the most compelling and elegant storytellers of our time.

    Reader Reviews
    LeCarre Sucks You In, September 27, 2003 Reviewer: earlrandy from RTP United States It's amazing how LeCarre quietly sucks you into a story. His books often seem overlong and glacially paced, yet somehow, but the last quarter of a novel, I find I can't put his books down. The Constant Gardener is no different. There are so many things LeCarre does well in this novel. First off, the characters are thouroughly fleshed out individuals. Next is the variety of locales; you feel like you've been to Kenya, London, Italy, and Canada, as the novel swings around the globe. This time around, the plot isn't as strong and driving as in previous novels, but LeCarre makes up for it with strong characterization in the leads. One place the book fails is in the villains. I found they came off a bit hokey and sometimes generic. But it was easy to overlook that and other minor failings because the novel is otherwise expertly written. If you read this novel, I suggest you also try "The Billion Dollar Molecule". TBDM is a great work of non-fiction relating the trials and potential riches of drug developement. This is a nice bookend for "The Constant Gardener"

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