The Night Gardener
A Book by George Pelecanos
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2006, Volume 13, #8
Written by John Metzger
Sat August 26, 2006, 12:45 AM CDT
With his previous book Drama City, author George Pelecanos refined his skills by crafting a character-driven tale that functioned within the framework of a crime novel. Subsequently, he opened a new door for himself, one which has granted him room to widen the purview of his writing. His latest effort The Night Gardener follows a similar pattern. Not only is the misdeed itself less important than its ramifications upon the lives of his characters, but also each minor detail that he reveals echoes with the quiet devastation and somber resignation that weighs heavily upon them.
Set on the gritty streets of Washington, D.C., The Night Gardener begins and ends in 1985 when a 14-year-old girl is found dead in a community garden. The crime scene serves to introduce the novelís three main characters ó homicide detective T.C. Cook and a pair of beat cops Gus Ramone and Dan "Doc" Holiday ó as well as the unknown murderer who terrorizes the community by sexually abusing and killing children whose first names happen to be palindromes. The bulk of the story, however, takes place 20 years later when Holiday, who quit the police force under suspicion of shady dealings, discovers the body of Asa Johnson and believes it to be the work of the same killer.
The event serves to bring Cook, Ramone, and Holiday back together again. Yet, although The Night Gardener revolves around their investigation into Johnsonís death, Pelecanos allows his story to slowly sprawl outwards. In the process, he reveals how the original crime and the choices made by the men involved have altered the courses of their lives forever. Each character that is introduced, large or small, is haunted by his past, and no matter how hard they try to find true inner peace, it remains, until death, just beyond their grasp.
Throughout The Night Gardener, Pelecanos explores issues of race, class, and sexuality, and although he doesnít fully escape the sermonizing that clouded his early novels, he has tempered it significantly by allowing the tale itself to further his personal discourse about life in urban America. With maturity, restraint has come, and although the societal woes that Pelecanos addresses creep through every aspect of the story, his black-and-white morality plays have come to exude the more realistically complex, grey-hued tones of modern living. Painted with a cinematic touch, The Night Gardener is an intricately detailed novel that is sharply written and emotionally resonant.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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