Le Carre on an indie trip

British spy novelist John Le Carre has thumbed his nose at the studios, shopping his latest novel, “The Secret Gardener,” exclusively to indie producers.

Vet U.K. producer Simon Channing-Williams (“Topsy-Turvy”), sometime partner of Mike Leigh, has emerged the winner, optioning the novel in a deal with a substantial seven-figure purchase price. Book will soon be submitted to screenwriters and directors; Leigh is not expected to helm.

Le Carre is a former British intelligence officer and author of cloak-and-dagger classics “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy,” and “The Russia House.”

“Secret Gardener” covers new terrain, tackling a subject of passionate interest to the author – pharmaceutical profiteering in the developing world.

In the novel, a British diplomat in Nairobi becomes a spy to investigate the murder of his wife, a crusader against multinational drug companies using poor Africans as guinea pigs.

“It’s an angry novel,” says Channing-Williams. “I think that needs to be brought out in the film as well.”

That was by no means a guarantee in Hollywood, where studio execs may like cut-throat intrigue, but prefer their costly, international thrillers denuded of risky political ideas.

Le Carre, who was repped by Mike Rudell of Franklin, Weinrib, Rudell and Vassallo, will exec produce the film. Although he exec produced and co-wrote the screenplay of his last novel, “Tailor of Panama,” he’s said to have been swayed by the level of creative participation promised by Channing-Williams.

The book option is the first to emerge from Channing-Williams’s new London-based shingle, Cloud Nine. He will produce with his partner, Gail Egan.

Channing-Williams says he expects to move quickly to develop the novel, but his attention, for the moment, is focused on Leigh.

Leigh, known to start principal photography without a screenplay or even a title, starts shooting his next feature June 11. It’s called “Untitled ’01.”

PAT LARKIN MAY BE THE MOST UNDEREXPOSED author to have penned five New York Times bestsellers in recent years.

With technothriller writer Larry Bond (who co-authored “Red Storm Rising” with Tom Clancy), Larkin has written such books as “Red Phoenix” and “Day of Wrath.” But his name has never appeared on their covers.

But Larkin is about to get marquee treatment. In a deal estimated to be in the six figures, brokered by Trident Media Group chief Robert Gottlieb, Larkin sold “Tribune,” a historical suspense novel set in the days of the Old Testament, to NAL.

NAL publisher Caroline Nichols bought the novel, the first in a series starring a Roman centurian charged with investigating a murder involving the inner circle of Roman emperor Tiberius.

TUESDAY WAS AN UNUSUALLY BUSY DAY of job-hopping in the often incestuous world of Gotham magazines.

In Style, the Time, Inc. glossy boasting a circulation of 1.65 million, has hired a president, a job that’s never existed before. It’s Stephanie George, who comes to In Style from Fairchild Publications where she was president of Women’s Wear Daily Media Worldwide.

Still vacant after two months is the job of In Style publisher, previously held by Louis Cona. Cona is now the publisher of Vanity Fair, a unit of Fairchild’s sister publication group, Conde Nast.

And New York magazine deputy editor Maer Roshan has ankled to join Talk as editorial director. Current editorial director Bob Wallace has been named Talk veep, a promotion, says Talk topper Tina Brown, allowing Wallace to focus less on day-to-day editing “while keeping his eminence grise role at the magazine.”

Wallace will attend to the interplay of Talk’s various divisions – including the book arm and the Talk Innovators and Navigators conference, now set to be an annual event – while continuing to edit some of the book’s heavy hitters.

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