‘Gardener’ details intricate trail of deceitProlific English writer John Le Carre is not known for superficial commentaries, or for beating about the bush in his gritty depictions of the nefarious deeds of spy agencies and secretive government departments.
Best known for his George Smiley trilogy ― though the character and others feature as bit players in subsequent novels ― Le Carre has catalogued the “fictional” excesses of not only the British but also the Israelis, in “The Little Drummer Girl”; the Americans, in “The Tailor of Panama”; and even the Russians, in “The Russia House,” though the latter have been the protagonists in much of his work.
The writer now sets his sights on the dubious practices of big business, more specifically multinational drug companies. Set in Kenya, England and mainland Europe, “The Constant Gardener” chronicles the travails and ultimately doomed destiny of Justin Quayle, a mid-level Foreign Office civil servant based at the British High Commission in Kenya, as he attempts to piece together the mystery of his young wife’s murder.
We first meet Quayle as he is being informed of Tessa Quayle’s death, and subsequently, through Le Carre’s trademark flashbacks, learn of their unlikely meeting, unorthodox marriage and Tessa’s zealous volunteer work, which somehow leads to her slaying.
Quayle is given a leave of absence after being flown to London for a rather unusual debriefing, which includes pointed questions on his wife’s death. His curiosity sparked by this, he starts on a quest to unravel the complex series of events leading to the murder.
Through Quayle’s journey the reader learns of a marital relationship that, while intimate, contained deep secrets. Tessa was conducting an investigation into the practices of two drug companies that are intertwined in a variety of shell companies and using unwitting human “guinea pigs” in Africa to test new products.
While some may regard Le Carre’s style as somewhat plodding, the meticulous attention to detail ensures there is no need for the suspension of disbelief so common in the genre. The use of “newspaper clips,” “scientific reports” and “department memos” adds to the realism.
Le Carre shows through the Quayles’ tragedy that a whistleblower, even with inside information, who plays by the rules stands next to no chance on a playing field that is seldom if ever level.
The Constant Gardener
By John Le Carre
Scribner Book Co., 482 pp.
14,700 won ($14.50)
by Chris Price