What kind of job, you also want to ask, in medias res, is The Constant Gardener? What are the connections between this novel's story and the real-world stories around and before it? Right at the start, mention is made of ‘the sensational case of a young Englishwoman who had been hacked to pieces 10 years ago’ — a clear reference to the Julie Ward case. It doesn't take too much effort to find parallels between le Carré's pharmas and actual ones, either … This is newish ground for one of Britain's most skilful writers, and he works it very well. The enterprise is marred only by constant sniping references to the press … The literary characters at least are fascinating…[and] the African details feel as right and true as the British ones.
The Constant Gardener inhabits a moral universe far less murky than the precincts of ambiguity where le Carré made his name … Le Carré is a superb moralist of the quotidian, a master at showing how our humdrum daily dealings with spouses and colleagues reveal us … The Constant Gardener makes some ungainly narrative moves, using whole chapters of police interrogation to establish basic plot points, and dishing out boatloads of documents for us to sort through. The effort hints at another kind of book altogether — namely, investigative journalism — and as we follow Justin's search for the truth, The Constant Gardener feels ever more like an exposé, an angry diatribe against corporate malfeasance.
We know from the start the pharmaceutical company is the culprit, so there's no suspense to the tale; le Carré thinks we're going to be so fired up by the polemic this novel disguises that we'll forgive him the lack of a true narrative arc. Some of his former strengths seem, suddenly, weaknesses. The ironic patois so many of his characters in the past have affected here seems to be in everyone's mouth; it's like pushing through a population of hyperverbal character actors. The Dickensian panorama of previous le Carré books might have better set off Quayle's limpidness; here, it is not made more interesting by contrast with the character of his dead wife, who is a martyred angel.