I had high hopes for The Constant Gardener when it was picked as a book club read due to the fact that in recent times I have had an urge to read novels from genres that I am not usually attracted too. John le Carre is famous for his espionage novels such as The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1963) and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974) and although this novel is described as a thriller I was hoping for some intense duplicity and entertaining action sequences. The novel is set in Nairobi and takes in the British diplomatic set, morally compromised doctors and drug researchers, ruthless pharmaceutical companies and Tessa Quayle, a beautiful (of course) lawyer and social activist who stirs the hornets nest of all of the above and pays a grisly price.
The Constant Gardener begins promisingly, with the pompous and narcissistic character of Sandy Woodrow, a British diplomat, leading the way. Unfortunately Woodrow is not the main protagonist of this well written but ultimately flawed novel, rather it is the British horticulture loving Justin Quayle, older husband of the problematic Tessa. Perhaps the greatest flaw is that Justin is a character lacking depth and spark, which somewhat squanders the reader’s inclination to sympathize with his predicament. Ultimately the novel is just too long and has too many lengthy scenes with characters endlessly conversing, in particular there a number tedious police interview scenes, resulting in less than sparkling dialogue. There are also long tracts of official documentation that does not make for enthralling reading. In addition there are too few scenes in which there is a ratcheting up of narrative tension, which the novel sorely needed. Despite the novel's flaws le Carre is obviously a classy writer who boasts a significant reputation, so I’m sure that some of his other novels are much better than The Constant Gardener.