Monday, July 27, 2009

The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos

From Publishers Weekly Starred Review. Pelecanos (Drama City) delivers a dignified, character-driven epic that succeeds as both literary novel and page-turner. In 1985, the body of a 14-year-old girl turns up in a Washington, D.C., park, the latest in a series of murders by a killer the media dub "The Night Gardener." T.C. Cook, the aging detective on the case, works with a quiet, almost monomaniacal, focus. Also involved are two young uniformed cops, Gus Ramone, who's diligent, conscientious and unimpressed by heroics, and Dan "Doc" Holiday, an adrenaline junkie who's decidedly less straight. Fast forward 20 years. Detective Ramone, now married with kids of his own, investigates the murder of one of his teenage son's friends. The homicide closely resembles the earlier unsolved Night Gardener murders. Holiday, now an alcoholic chauffeur and bodyguard, follows the case on his own and tracks down Cook, long retired but still obsessed with the original murders. While the three work together toward a suspenseful ending, Pelecanos emphasizes the fallacy of "solving" a murder and explores the ripple effects of violent crime on society. (Aug.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

I finished this book about a week ago and it has taken me a moment to write what I have been thinking. I have been busy, but I also had a hard time writing the review. First off, let me say that while reading this book I was suffering from a headache that lasted about 2 weeks and is still on and off. So, it took me longer to read The Night Gardener and it was more difficult for me to concentrate. With that being said, I want to let you know up front that I enjoyed this novel.

The writing style was a bit different to me. I think that -combined with my headache- gave me a hard time. It has less flow and more hard edges. I don't think that is really the wording I want, but I can't think of another one. This is the first sentence, "The crime scene was in the low 30s around E, on the edge of Fort Dupont Park, in a neighborhood known as Greenway, in the 6th District section of Southeast D.C." Ok, not bad writing and it is a great description, but I think I read it 4 times. Until I got into his writing style I found myself looking at previous paragraphs and realizing I had missed something. After I got used to it, it flowed okay and I was able to really get into the story.

The story - very good. Mr. Pelecanos did an excellent job with this mystery. It wasn't until the very last paragraph that you knew the complete story. As he wove his tale you kept getting sucked into every little bit. I wanted to know what had happened to the children and I wanted to know why. I also wanted to know if the current crime was a coincidence or another serial killing. Each fact could be used to pull you both directions. Mr. Pelecanos also writes with much realism. There is no sugarcoating. He highlights racism, family life, poverty, and the police. Sometimes you might be a little tired of his sexual innuendos or homophobic put downs, but they were there to make the story accurate. Let's be honest - this world is full of good cops, bad cops, racists, inequality, and a lot of other crap. I don't think you can write a story of low income families and racially tense areas without putting it in.

The characters were very well developed. Each had a very distinct personality. Gus Ramone was a family man who just wanted to do his job and keep everyone safe. Gus Holiday was an ex-cop with an alcohol addiction who made some bad choices in his past. Cook was the retired cop who never let go of the one case that had evaded him. These characters interacted with personalities intact. They showed their dislike and they attempted to work around it.

On top of being a good mystery, the characters and the realism create a novel that touches on life's inequity and how each person copes with it differently. It gives you enough background of each character to see where they made the choice to live their current life. Some turn to addictions, some turn to family, and some bury themselves in a job to avoid it all.

I would definitely read another one of George Pelecanos novels. Has anyone else read his other work? If so, let me know what you thought. Also, if you read this novel did you like it?


  1. I like books that have that kind of "grit" to them. It actually makes it more realistic and like a true mystery/detective novel. I've always had my eye on this book and I'm glad you like it. I hope I like it too :)

  2. I think you summed up your impressions perfectly. It took me awhile to get used to the language as well. Here was my opinion-

  3. I still have yet to read this one. It's one of the next ones in line! It sounds like a great book though! Thanks for the heads up with the difficulty in getting used to the language. I'll take my time starting out on it and make sure I can have a clear head before beginning!

  4. I'm almost finished reading The Night Gardner and I am having trouble keeping up the all the characters. Is it just me? Or are others having the same problem?

  5. Barbara - It so is not just you. The characters are all completely different, but for some reason the same thing was happening to me. I enjoyed the mystery, but parts of the writing style were hard for me to follow.

  6. I received this book thanks to the Hachette group. I have not read it yet but am glad toread that you like it.