Constantly Surprising

le Carre is in fine form, with this story of one man's crusade for justice and the woman he loved, but never really knew.

"The Constant Gardener" is le Carre’s eighteenth novel, revolving around a man’s search for the murderers of his beautiful and adulterous wife. The story begins with the cold–blooded murder of Justin Quayle’s wife, Tessa, and the disappearance of her African lover and travelling companion from the scene of the crime. A British diplomat by profession, Justin sets out on a quest for the motive behind his wife’s killing, unwittingly stumbling upon a scam of disturbing proportions, which he discovers, had led to Tessa’s death.

Set in Nairobi, Justin’s quest takes him around the world, and ultimately brings him back to Africa, going as far as the depths of Sudan, and ending right where it had all begun...the spot where Tessa had been killed. As he uncovers more information about his deceased wife and her activities, he learns about the woman who he had married but never really known, a woman who felt strongly about Africa and her people, a woman who would have gone to any lengths to expose wrongdoers and have them punished… a passion for which she had paid dearly. Justin, in his effort to rediscover his dead wife, unearths a gigantic pharmaceuticals scam, involving some of the largest companies in the business. Needless to say, Tessa had got too close to the truth, and ruffled a lot of feathers during her investigation, thereby effectively digging her own grave. The story ends unexpectedly, and has been remarkably well written.

All the characters are finely etched right from the whole posse of diplomats with all their skeletons hidden away carefully, their bored and superficial wives to the corrupt doctors and the exploited commoners. The protagonist himself, though subtle and soft-spoken, creates a lasting impression on the mind of the reader. The internal power struggles in the world of the diplomats as well as the suffering inflicted on the unsuspecting poverty-stricken people of a "backward" country have been portrayed brilliantly in this novel. The author is at his descriptive best when showing us the stark contrast between the lifestyles and surroundings of the diplomats and the squalor and penury of the poor in Africa, deceived into being guinea pigs for wonder drugs which apparently cure tuberculosis.

The message is clear...Tessa Quayle dared to raise her voice...she was silenced. Could anyone really help the thousands of people who were being misused, dying like flies at the whim of pharmaceutical bigwigs? This novel is however more than just a story of a man’s crusade for is a sensitive portrayal of his quest for the woman who he had never had time to know or love.

I hadn’t read any of le Carre’s works prior to "The Constant Gardener", and now I suppose I will. He paints pictures with words, enabling a reader to actually see the characters and feel as they do. There are a couple of points where the pace slackens, but if one looks at the big picture, the result is more than just satisfactory. "The Constant Gardener" is well worth a read.

This article was first published on20 Feb 2001.