Excerpt from The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Constant Gardener

by John Le Carre

The Constant Gardener
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2000, 496 pages
    Nov 2001, 576 pages

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"They're hunting high and low for him, they say. Last seen sitting at Tessa's side in the jeep when they set out for the Leakey site."

Coleridge stalked to his desk, flopped into his chair and leaned back with his arms splayed. "So the butler did it," he declared. "Bluhm forgot his education, went berserk, topped the two of them, bagged Noah's head as a souvenir, rolled the jeep on its side, locked it and did a runner. Well, wouldn't we all? Fuck."

"You know him as well as I do."

"No, I don't. I keep clear of him. I don't like film stars in the aid business. Where the hell did he go? Where is he?"

Images were playing in Woodrow's mind. Bluhm the Westerner's African, bearded Apollo of the Nairobi cocktail round, charismatic, witty, beautiful. Bluhm and Tessa side by side, glad-handing guests while Justin the old debutantes' delight purrs and smiles and pushes out the drinks. Arnold Bluhm M.D., sometime hero of the war in Algeria, discoursing from the rostrum of the United Nations lecture hall on medical priorities in disaster situations. Bluhm when the party's nearly over, slumped in a chair and looking lost and empty, with everything worth knowing about him hidden five miles down.

"I couldn't send them home, Sandy," Coleridge was saying in the sterner voice of a man who has visited his conscience and come back reassured. "I never saw it as my job to ruin a man's career just because his wife likes to get her leg over. It's the new millennium. People must be allowed to screw up their lives as they see fit."

"Of course."

"She was doing a bloody good job out there in the slums, whatever anybody said about her up at the Muthaiga Club. She may have got up the noses of Moi's Boys but Africans who mattered loved her to a man."

"No question," Woodrow agreed.

"All right, she was into all that gender crap. So she should be. Give Africa to the women and the place might work."

Mildren entered without knocking.

"Call from Protocol, sir. Tessa's body's just arrived at the hospital morgue and they're asking for an immediate identification. And the press agencies are screaming for a statement."

"How the hell did they get her to Nairobi so fast?"

"Flew her," Woodrow said, recalling Wolfgang's repulsive image of slicing up her body to get it into the hold.

"No statement till she's been identified," Coleridge snapped.

Woodrow and Justin went there together, crouching on the slatted bench of a High Commission Volkswagen van with tinted windows. Livingstone drove, with Jackson his massive fellow Kikuyu squeezed beside him on the front seat for added muscle in case they needed it. With the air-conditioning on high the van was still a furnace. The city traffic was at its demented worst. Crammed Matutu minibuses hurtled and honked to either side of them, poured out fumes and hurled up dust and grit. Livingstone negotiated a roundabout and pulled up outside a stone doorway surrounded by chanting, swaying groups of men and women. Mistaking them for demonstrators Woodrow let out an exclamation of anger, then realized they were mourners waiting to collect their bodies. Rusted vans and cars with red cortege ribbons were parked expectantly along the curb.

"There is really no need for you to do this, Sandy," Justin said.

"Of course there's a need," said the soldier's son nobly.

A gaggle of police and medical-looking men in spattered white overalls waited on the doorstep to receive them. Their one aim was to please. An Inspector Muramba presented himself and, smiling delightedly, shook hands with the two distinguished gentlemen from the British High Commission. An Asian in a black suit introduced himself as Surgeon Doctor Banda Singh at their service. Overhead pipes accompanied them down a weeping concrete corridor lined with overflowing dustbins. The pipes supply the refrigerators, thought Woodrow, but the refrigerators don't work because there's a power cut and the morgue has no generators. Dr. Banda led the way, but Woodrow could have found it on his own. Turn left, you lose the smell. Turn right, it gets stronger. The unfeeling side of him had taken over again. A soldier's duty is to be here, not to feel. Duty. Why did she always make me think of duty? He wondered whether there was some ancient piece of superstition about what happened to aspiring adulterers when they gazed on the dead bodies of the women they had coveted. Dr. Banda was leading them up a short staircase. They emerged in an unventilated reception hall where the stench of death was all-pervading.

Copyright © 2001 by David Cornwell.

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