Title: The Way Home Author: George Pelecanos ISBN: 978-0-316-15649-3 Pages: 323 Release Date: May 2009 Publisher: Little Brown and Company Genre: Literary CTitle: The Way Home Author: George Pelecanos ISBN: 978-0-316-15649-3 Pages: 323 Release Date: May 2009 Publisher: Little Brown and Company Genre: Literary Crime Fiction Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Summary: Hidden beneath the floorboards in a house he's remodeling, Christopher Flynn discovers something very tempting-and troubling. Summoning every bit of maturity and every lesson he's learned the hard way, Chris leaves what he found where he found it and tells his job partner to forget it, too. Knowing trouble when he sees it-and walking the other way-is a habit Chris is still learning. Chris's father, Thomas Flynn, runs the family business where Chris and his friends have found work. Thomas is just getting comfortable with the idea that his son is grown, working, and on the right path at last. Then one day Chris doesn't show up for work-and his father knows deep in his bones that danger has found him. Although he wishes it weren't so, he also knows that no parent can protect a child from all the world's evils. Sometimes you have to let them find their own way home.
My brief review: This is not a thriller or a traditional whodunnit but a story about a boy growing up and trying to find his way in the world and his place in his family. There's is a crime but it is more of a vehicle to illustrate several points including that of the role and result of punishment as doled out by the juvenile justice system. Arguably for some it is a deterrence, for others it is not.
At the heart of this novel is a father son relationship. It's a fractured relationship that was once strong and invigorating to father and son. Thomas Flynn and Chris love each other but have lost respect for each other as Chris grew into a teenager and are no longer able to communicate. Growing up is a difficult time in a young person's life. There are a myriad of pressures to contend with from parents, friends, school and society. Chris rebels against the rules, authority and his father's expectations. Poor judgment and stupid decisions made under the guise of being cool eventually land him in Pine Ridge Juvenile Detention. It might end up being one of the best things that happens to Chris. But not his dad. Thomas Flynn is too concerned with what the neighbors will think and too blind-sided by his determination to make Chris into the son he thinks Chris should be. But even after Chris sheds his bad boy image, starts working for his dad and maintains a low profile, Thomas isn't happy. Chris doesn't understand his father and finds it easier to stay away from his family despite wanting to be able to talk to his father. But he's also thinking about starting his own family.
The values and beliefs both Thomas and Chris hold tightly will be tested. They will be forced to reconsider their views of life, each other and human nature. Chris is still young and may be able to build a life he can be proud of that includes his mother and father. Thomas needs to reconcile the things that desperately upset him and come to terms with life before it is too late. And father and son will soon realize how important are the small and large decisions you make for yourselves, your family and your friends. George Pelecanos has given us a captivating story about life and relationships and how the decisions we make in our own lives will effect the lives of those we love....more
Title: The Night Gardener Author: George Pelecanos ISBN: 978-0-316-05650-2 Pages: 372 Release Date: August 2006 Publisher: Little, Brown and Company Genre:Title: The Night Gardener Author: George Pelecanos ISBN: 978-0-316-05650-2 Pages: 372 Release Date: August 2006 Publisher: Little, Brown and Company Genre: Crime Fiction Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Publisher: Gus Ramone is "good police," a former Internal Affairs investigator now working homicide for the city's Violent Crime branch. His new case involves the death of a local teenager named Asa, whose body has been found in a local community garden.
The murder unearths intense memories of a case Ramone worked as a patrol cop twenty years earlier, when he and his partner, Dan "Doc" Holiday, assisted a legendary detective named T. C. Cook. The series of murders, all involving local teenage victims, was never solved. In the years since, Holiday has left the force under a cloud of morals charges, and now finds work as a bodyguard and driver. Cook has retired, but he has never stopped agonizing about the "Night Gardener" killings.
The new case draws the three men together on a grim mission to finish the work that has haunted them for years. All the love, regret, and anger that once burned between them comes rushing back, and old ghosts walk once more as the men try to lay to rest the monster who has stalked their dreams. Bigger and even more unstoppable than his previous thrillers, George Pelecanos achieves in The Night Gardener what his brilliant career has been building toward: a novel that is a perfect union of suspense, character, and unstoppable fate.
My Thoughts: George Pelecanos' The Night Gardener is not your typical crime drama. Pelecanos, a contributing writer on HBO's critically-acclaimed series, The Wire, doesn't just write crime dramas. He writes character studies set against the back drop of crime. What makes The Night Gardener so engrossing is Pelecanos' understanding of human nature, his awareness that people are both good and bad, and his ability to portray these qualities in his characters whether they are perpetrators, victims or investigators. It is this skill that makes The Night Gardener a book that people from all walks of life can identify with and enjoy.
We see this dichotomy in the main character of Gus Ramone, for example, who has his share of dilemmas (moral, professional and otherwise) at work and at home. As a cop, Ramone prides himself on doing his job by the book but struggles over what to do when his usual ways won't get him the results he needs. He's never respected cops who he considered "loose cannons" like former police officer Dan Holliday, whom he believes, willingly and easily stepped over the line to solve. But the day Ramone works a case that's become personal, more to him than just the job, he begins to see things differently. He finds himself questioning whether things really are as black and white as he believes or if, sometimes, passion and desire dictate approaching things from a different angle.
On the home front, in his role as parent, he faces a dilemma regarding his son's education. He loves and trusts his son, Diego, but knows it's hard out in the world beyond the family home's front door. Dangerous elements, bad influences and temptations abound - all the things every concerned parent worries about. So Ramone, after he and his wife discuss it together (while Ramone agonizes over it alone), places Diego in a "better" private school. There he discovers a different set of problems that may be far worse than his son faced while in DC's public school system. Such life changing choices leads Ramone to be constantly second guessing himself. And who among us hasn't undergone that kind of inner struggle, that personal turmoil that makes us wish life wasn't so hard? Ramone's wife is there with him, a constant companion and source of moral support. A confidante. But Ramone, it seems, is ultimately the one on who's shoulders many of these burdens rest, and we hope he eventually finds some peace of mind while trying to achieve the American dream - to be a success at his job and raise a law-abiding, well-educated family in the face of an increasingly hostile and often indifferent society.
When it comes to Ramone's wife, who happens to be a former police officer, and his partner, also a woman, Rhonda Willis, one wishes Pelaconos would have devoted more time to fleshing them out. Since the book comes in at a taut 365 pages, (which goes by at nearly light speed anyway), spending an additional few chapters providing insight into their psyches, their hopes, fears and inspirations, would have been refreshing. Though they offer well-needed and well-timed comic support and witty dialogue, it sometimes seems that's the only reason they are there. Unfortunately, as such they come off as ancillary to the story. They deserve more and we deserve to see Pelecanos turn his knack for writing introspective, distinctive and keen characters to women..
That, I feel, is about all that is warranted by way of criticism for this otherwise exciting and engrossing book. The high points heavily outweigh the shortcomings, and the dialogue, which makes up much of The Night Gardener, is clearly one of its major strengths. Pelecanos excels at subtly introducing ideas and themes through the characters' discussions. The brutally honest way in which Pelecanos' characters communicate and the often "colorful" language used is bound to cause discomfort for some readers. But without it, the book would not ring as true. In cities everywhere, (and why should D.C., the setting, be any different?), for many of the cops and criminals, peppering their language with curses, crude words and expletives comes as natural as breathing. This allows for the graphic dialogue in The Night Gardner to be employed as a tool that makes people confront some bitter truths about the way things really are. If this comes at a cost of discomfort to some readers, all the better as it then serves as a sort of wake up call to some of life's harsher aspects.
In summary, don't make the mistake of pigeonholing this book as "just" a crime drama. As I said earlier, the crime is really just the background for the people in the story. Not just good guys and bad guys. But people with relationships to each other, family members, friends, co-workers and more. It's about people and how they live, what they say and how they try and survive in today's society, rife with all the hard hitting and often ugly pitfalls that come with it. So, if you like crime dramas, if you like character studies, if you like novels that read like factual accounts, read Pelecanos books especially The Night Gardener. ...more
The Cutting Season is not a light beach read. It’s a wonderfully complex, absorbing story about family, race, history, motherhood, love and loss and sThe Cutting Season is not a light beach read. It’s a wonderfully complex, absorbing story about family, race, history, motherhood, love and loss and so much more. This book requires the reader’s focus. It is as much about the main character, Caren, and her development as it is about the murders she is trying to solve. They are personal to Caren as one was her great-great-great grandfather and the other, the mother of two small children. In this way the author has used the killings, set generations apart, as vehicles for Caren Gray (the name in itself says a lot about her) to learn about herself and, in turn, the two most important relationships to her: from the past, one with her mother, and currently, one with her daughter.
The Cutting Season’s protagonist, Caren Gray, has taken it upon herself to try and solve the mysteries behind two murders: the recent stabbing of a female migrant worker and the past murder of her great-great-great grandfather, Jason. The body of the migrant worker, Ines Avalo, a young mother, is found on the plantation close to where the slave cabins used to be. Caren cannot help but connect the migrant worker’s murder to the disappearance of Jason. Both had ties to Belle Vie – she worked the cane fields and he lived and worked on the plantation for decades. The current case reminds Caren of her family’s loss years ago. She’s plagued by constant thoughts of Jason and dreams of what may have happened to him.
Caren’s anxious to find the truth behind both cases but for different reasons. In the current case, the police arrested a young man, Donovan, who works at Belle Vie but Caren’s convinced he didn’t do it. Caren likes Donovan and the other Belle Vie employees and sees this as a way to prove her loyalty to them. As for Jason, she wants to find out what happened to him as a tribute to her mother. Caren heard stories throughout her childhood from her mother about Jason and her other relatives who worked and lived on the plantation. Her mother never stopped wondering what happened to him.
Caren was raised on the Louisiana plantation of Belle Vie where her mother was head cook. Her mother loved to share stories about their ancestors once worked as slaves in the sugar cane fields of Belle Vie long ago. Caren hated living at Belle Vie and couldn’t wait to get away. She didn’t care about her ancestors and resented her mother for making Caren live at Belle Vie. Now the plantation is a tourist attraction and Caren has returned with her young daughter, Morgan, to be the manager. It’s a far cry from law school (she dropped out after two years) and Caren isn’t completely comfortable being back there. But it’s a job and a good, safe home for Morgan.
Having a daughter has led Caren to have regrets about how she behaved towards her mother before she died. She’d hated growing up at Belle Vie, wasn’t impressed that her mother was the head cook for a large house and grounds owned by other people. It didn’t matter the owners took good care of their employees. Caren hated the family history that her mother tried to share with her every night. The very thing that made her mother love Belle Vie: that her ancestors worked the plantation and lived here years ago, made Caren hate it. It embarrassed her to know her family lived and worked this way. She couldn’t understand why her mother was so proud of her ancestors. From the start Locke had me interested in Caren’s character: deeply flawed but likable and empathetic. She means well but her intentions usually don’t come across in her words and actions. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. She made some poor decisions in her life and, as a result, isn’t particularly happy now. Caren has some major regrets, is lonely and raising a daughter, Morgan, by herself. Caren’s doing the best she can to keep Morgan safe and happy but knows Morgan isn’t happy living on the plantation. Morgan’s lonely and has been pulling away from her mother beginning to resent her for making Morgan live on the plantation.
Caren doesn’t ooze charm and isn’t someone you instantly like. She herself is initially suspicious of people. It takes her a long time to warm up to someone and, even then, can be awkward and stand-offish. Yet she is unaware of these faults, seeming to see herself as easy to get know and understand. For example, Morgan knows more about the “Belle Vie Players”, an acting group, than her mother does. Caren doesn’t spend much time with any of them even though they put on a play about Belle Vie’s history twice a day for plantation visitors. And yet Caren is surprised and hurt when she discovers they don’t consider her one of their own. They believe she would take the owners side over theirs if it ever came down to it.
Caren launches her own investigation into the murder of the female migrant worker after clashing with the police. She knows they believe Donovan is the murderer and is sure they won’t do a thorough investigation. As Caren delves further into her own investigation, taking some dangerous risks to get the answers she’s looking for, she learns about herself from unexpected places. What she discovers about the murdered woman’s life and the history of Bell Vie itself, combined with frequent thoughts and memories of her mother, helps Caren achieve a better understanding of what it means to be a good mother. She has a new found appreciation for her mother’s sacrifices and sees where she herself has gone wrong. As a result, she realizes she needs to make changes for her daughter’s benefit. Caren also becomes deeply interested in her ancestors and puts herself in considerable danger to find out what happened to her great-great-great grandfather. Caren’s investigation into the deaths of Ines Avalo and Jason enable her to come to terms with her past, let go of long-held regrets and forgive herself for past mistakes.
This book offers something for mystery lovers as well as readers who enjoy strong, flawed characters and absorbing stories. Anita Locke intertwines Caren’s story with that of the murders making it difficult to pigeonhole The Cutting Season as just one kind of genre. There aren’t many characters but that’s not a drawback here because Locke fully develops her characters so they feel real to us. Add to that the host of intense, interesting issues she includes and the way Locke layers the stories and you get a challenging, fascinating and powerful read for people who enjoy literary mysteries. Even people who say they don’t like mysteries will find this to be an exception for the reasons above. Whether her next book continues to follow Caren’s adventures or not, I know I’m looking forward to it. In the meantime, am going to make a point of reading her debut book, Black Water Rising which, not surprisingly, received fantastic reviews. ...more
Helen Dunmore has written a riveting story about two sisters and the ties that bond them as well as drive them apart. Isabel and Nina were very closeHelen Dunmore has written a riveting story about two sisters and the ties that bond them as well as drive them apart. Isabel and Nina were very close growing up, maybe too close. They know each other better than they know themselves. A painful tragedy in their childhood caused both of them, but especially Nina, to push the past away, choosing to forget much of it. But the difficult delivery and birth of Isabel's first child and the memories that come back to Nina while she is staying under Isabel's roof, bring the past back resulting in unintended and surprising consequences for everyone. Talking to the Dead is a tale of love, loyalty, manipulation, fear, anger and betrayal will stay with you long after you finish reading the book.
Nina is anxious to visit and help Isabel out after the difficult birth of her first child, Antony. When Nina arrives at the house, there is the expected tension between she and Richard, Isabel's husband, but Nina also senses an odd attraction that confuses and troubles her. Nina has always considered Isabel superior to herself, smarter, more sophisticated and more talented. She craves Isabel's approval as she always has and desperately wants to please her. This renders Nina awkward and uncomfortable around Isabel, unsure of how Isabel will receive her and if she will be able to please Isabel. Isabel, at first, is sweet and kind, very happy to have Nina staying with her. But it isn't long before Isabel turns selfish and manipulative. She enjoys controlling every aspect of Nina from her thoughts to her actions to what she says. Isabel appears not only aware of Nina's predilection but she capitalizes on it and manipulates her for her own enjoyment.
Nina begins having vivid memories and dreams of her childhood in her parents house shortly after she arrives at Isabel's home. We see the relationship between Nina and Isabel when they were little girls and are privy to events of their childhood through Nina's dreams and memories. As the days and weeks go by and Nina struggles to bond once again with Isabel, she remembers more about her childhood. She recalls her artist parents, more focused on their work than on their children. Isabel and Nina turned to each other for love, comfort and care, as a result. Isabel, the older sister, took on more of a parenting, nurturing role for Nina who worshipped Isabel's every word and deed. Nina was extremely loyal to Isabel and trusted her completely. As a child, Nina believed there was nothing Isabel couldn't do to the point of magical acts that transcend reality. Isabel counted on this loyalty and worship and learned hot to control and manipulate Nina to get it. But the delicate balance in the household is threatened by the birth of Isabel and Nina's little brother, Colin. The girls are shocked to see their mother become the doting parent she's never been for them. While Nina is confused and doesn't understand what's happening, Isabel is perfectly aware of what her mother is doing and doesn't like what she's seeing at all.
Isabel's new baby, Antony reminds Nina of her little brother, Colin, and stirs up these painful, long forgotten memories. As an adult, Nina understands more about Isabel's behavior and her parents. Nina also trusts her memories and her knowledge more now than she did as a child. One night Nina recalls the terrible tragedy that befell the family when she was still a little girl. Her memory of the incident shocks her and she tries to talk to Isabel about it. Isabel disagrees with Nina and remembers things differently, forcing her version of events on Nina. But Nina isn't the same little girl who worshipped everything Isabel said and did. Mixed in with her love and adoration of Isabel there is anger and jealousy.
Nina's feelings for Isabel start to change. She is suddenly confused and troubled by her older sister. What she once thought of as love and caring she now reluctantly sees more as manipulation and a selfishness on Isabel's part. Feelings of anger and jealousy towards Isabel crop up as more memories, thoughts and feelings buried deep inside Nina bubbling to the surface. She is angry one minute, scared and fearful the next. Nina lashes out at Isabel in her anger and painfully betrays Isabel in ways that can never be taken back.
This book is full of tension and raw emotion from the start. The characters, particularly Nina, Richard and Isabel are real and very flawed. I found Isabel particularly difficult to like. She comes off as extremely selfish and manipulative rather than appreciative of the people around her, all more than willing to do whatever will make her feel comfortable and allow her to rest. As the story progresses, some light is shed on Isabel's behavior. Unfortunately, those around her who should love her and care for her are always too wrapped up in themselves to see what Isabel needs and give it to her.
I liked Nina for the most part and I felt badly for her. But when she betrays Isabel I saw a very different Nina and one I'm not sure I like very much! Although I understood why she wanted to hurt Isabel, I find it hard to excuse what she did. But the emotions and behavior started long ago in the sister's childhood. Richard and the nanny, Susan, can't completely understand the dynamics between Nina and Isabel because they weren't there all of those years ago. Poor Richard. He's such a successful businessman but at home he cannot seem to make his wife happy. He just wants her to be happy and comfortable and he wants to be loved. Like so many men, he doesn't get it, he doesn't understand why the women are behaving as they are or what it means.
This is a beautifully written book about how the past is never really forgotten. Things that happen when you're young can have a huge impact when you are an adult. This is not a happy story, not even with the birth of the baby. It's a very painful, sad and surprising story. It's a story about flawed human beings who are too wrapped up in themselves to really understand what the people they love are trying to tell them. But it is a very real, very human story. Relationships are difficult and wonderful and troubling. Love can make people do things they would never imagine themselves capable of until something happens and it's too late to change it.
Helen Dunmore's writing is beautiful. Her use of language and the imagery contrast sharply with the emotion expressed throughout the novel. Here are a few passages I thought were wonderful:
"I'm under the fig tree, with it's big leaves all round me like hands to keep off the sun. There are plenty of figs this year, and for once they're going to ripen. Their warm, spicy smell fills the shade where I sit. It's half-past two and the sky's white with heat. In this weather you sit out the glare, waiting for the long light of evening."
"Slowly, slowly, I push open the door of Susan's room. I make no sound. The pale curtains are drawn, and the room smells of the new pine furniture, and baby sleep. He is rosy with the heat, his hair damp, his fist up to his face. He is sleeping on his side, and Isabel has put a rolled up towel beside him so he can't turn onto his face. I creep right up to the cot. His weight dents the mattress. He looks more solid than I've ever seen him. Already he's changing, filling out, and that fist by his face looks strangely mature."
"He was a handsome man, our father, and five years younger than my mother. He was fair, with the same eyes as Isabel, the same golden skin, which was creased by the time I knew him. By some reckonings my mother was lucky to get him. He drew people round him, because he was funny, because he had a way of making you feel that you were something new and delightful he'd just discovered, and above all because there was something lost and pained in him which people felt without knowing quite what it was. He seemed to need you. My mother didn't seem to need anybody much."
Helen Dunmore won England's Orange Prize for Fiction in 1996 for Talking to the Dead, the year's best novel by a woman writer. this is the first of Helen Dunmore's books that I've read but it won't be my last! ...more