Gaby's Reviews > The Night Gardener

The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos
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Jun 22, 09

bookshelves: arcs, detective-and-mystery, reviewed-books, summer-reading
Read in June, 2009

** spoiler alert ** Synopsis:
The book opens with glimpse at a crime scene in a community garden in Washington D.C. in 1985 where Pelecanos introduces three key detectives. T.C. Cook, a sergeant with 24 years on the force, known as "The Mission Man" with a 90% closure rate. Dan Holiday, known as Doc, is tall, thin, and is results oriented but with little respect for the rules. Gus Ramone, like Doc Holiday is on his second year at Metro DC police force, but he prefers to follow the playbook, stay safe, put in his time and move on. Holiday and Ramone are handling crowd control. T.C. Cook is examining the crime scene surrounding Eve Drake, a young black teenager and the third and latest victim of the "Night Gardener". There is considerable pressure to solve and catch the culprit of the "Palindrome Murders".

Pelecanos then takes the readers to Washington D.C. in 2005. Doc Holiday has been eased out of the police force and instead owns and manages a limo company while Ramone has remained on the force and risen up. As a senior detective, Ramone plays on his strengths to close cases and liberally relies on the skills of those around him. His life centers on his wife and their young daughter and their fourteen year old son who is undergoing some adjustment problems in his new Maryland school.

With Holiday's accidental discovery of another teenage corpse in a community garden in the Southeast D.C. area twenty years later, Holiday and Ramone's paths intersect. Ramone's teenage son had been friends with Asa Johnson, the victim, and Ramone takes an interest in the case.

The Palindrome Murders had suddenly ceased in 1985 but the Night Gardener had never been caught. Holiday suspects that the Night Gardener may have become active again and that Asa was his latest victim. Though he'd left the police force years ago, Holiday finds himself thinking about Asa Johnson and the Palindrome Murders and doesn't trust that Ramone and the detectives will solve the case. Holiday reaches out to retired T.C. Cook to see if together they can help the police locate the killer.

Review:
George Pelecanos has built a strong reputation for authentic dialogue and interesting characters through fifteen Washington D.C. based detective novels and his Emmy-nominated show The Wire. The Night Gardener is my first experience with his work and I can see how he's developed a strong and loyal fan base.

The Night Gardener is carefully crafted and comes together smoothly. While the three main detectives and Asa Johnson's murder is the primary storyline, there are several other narratives and crimes that occur simultaneously. Even the subordinate plot lines and characters are well developed, which heightens the level of suspense. I couldn't tell until the ending how everything would fit together. But when I reached the end, then the details that were floating around in the periphery somehow made sense and I realized how The Night Gardener was so carefully crafted.

I would recommend this book to people fond of forensic and police thrillers, and detective novels. I think it would have special appeal to those familiar with the Washington D.C. area.
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