Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Le Carre to Drug Companies: Heal Thyself

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Le Carre to Drug Companies: Heal Thyself

Article excerpt

John le Carre should lock the door and keep his .22-caliber umbrella cocked. Writing about the craftiness of communist spies during the cold war was daring. But writing about the venality of the pharmaceutical industry is downright reckless.

If you've been disappointed by the spymaster's work since the fall of the Berlin Wall, "The Constant Gardener" will bring you in from the cold.

The story opens with a report that Tessa Quayle and her African lover have been gruesomely murdered in a remote area of the Sibiloi National Park. For Sandy Woodrow, a career functionary in the British Foreign Office in Nairobi, this is particularly bad news. The death of a beautiful philanthropist, "the Princess Diana of the African Poor," will raise a chorus of complaints about Kenya's political instability and the failure of the British government to protect its nationals.

To complicate matters, Sandy was in love with Tessa, and in a moment of uncharacteristic candor wrote her a letter that may now fall into the hands of her tepid husband, one of Sandy's close friends and colleagues.

Told of his wife's murder, Justin Quayle reacts with the refined composure colleagues have come to expect from this constant gardener. After all, he's a man who never raised an objection to his wife's political activism nor an eyebrow at her relationship with a prominent black doctor.

But in the shadow of her death, Justin starts to look at Tessa, himself, and their marriage in a fresh light. "She followed her conscience, I got on with my job," he confesses. "It was an immoral distinction. It should never have been made. It was like sending her off to church and telling her to pray for both of us."

Disguised in quiet mourning, Justin assembles his wife's papers and retires to England for some much needed rest. But actually, the gardener is sharpening his shears. Armed with Tessa's research, Justin starts to pursue her crusade against the drug companies who are using Africa as a giant petri dish for experimental medicines. …

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