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The Night Gardener: A Novelby George Pelecanos
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Like the veteran cops and private investigators who populate his fiction, George Pelecanos knows his precinct inside out. His first 13 novels examined life on the streets of his chosen beat — eastern Washington, D.C. — with the precision of a crime-scene expert and the compassion of a grief counselor. After reading just a few of his books, even nonresidents might feel that the neighborhoods of Southeast,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) the Georgia Avenue corridor and the 'new badlands' of Prince George's County (Md.) are as familiar as their own backyard. Pelecanos' latest novel, 'The Night Gardener,' opens literally on this familiar turf: a patch of community vegetable garden in the Greenway section of Washington, where, in 1985, the body of 14-year-old Eve Drake is discovered. The cause of death is a gunshot to the head; there is also evidence of sexual abuse. The hunt for her killer is led by Detective T.C. Cook, known as 'The Mission Man' for his relentless, methodical investigatory techniques. Cook quickly determines that Eve is the third in a series of killings known as the Palindrome Murders, so-called because the victims names are spelled the same backward as forward — the first two were called Otto and Ava. After this gripping opening, Pelecanos changes track abruptly, jumping forward 20 years to take the reader beyond the confines of a standard police procedural into a deeper, more evocative realm. Instead of chronicling Cook's investigations, which never yielded an arrest, the author focuses on two young policemen who were present at the crime scene to perform crowd control. The first is the reliable Gus Ramone, who has gone on to become an Internal Affairs officer and then a homicide detective. He is also a doting father who is trying to raise a rebellious biracial son (Ramone is of Italian ancestry, and his wife is African-American). The second officer, the flamboyant Dan 'Doc' Holiday, now works as a limousine driver when he isn't boozing and womanizing. Their shared history includes not only that unforgettable night at the crime scene but also Ramone's role several years later in forcing Holiday out of the department for his involvement with a prostitute. The two men are cast reluctantly back together when Holiday, sleeping off a drinking binge near yet another community garden, discovers the body of a boy named Asa Johnson. Not only is the victim's first name a palindrome, but he was killed with a single shot to the head and bears signs of sexual abuse. He also happens to be an acquaintance of the 14-year-old son of Ramone, who becomes one of the lead detectives on the official investigation. Holiday, sensing that Asa's killing might mark the return of the serial killer, decides to mount his own private investigation, enlisting the aid of the feeble, retired Cook. They soon cross paths with Ramone. The three men form an uneasy alliance, following increasingly twisted clues that lead each of them in unexpected directions. Although 'The Night Gardener' has its share of page-turning virtues, Pelecanos once again shows himself to have ambitions far beyond simply creating a first-rate thriller. Like Dennis Lehane at his best, Pelecanos is able to obscure the line between genre writing and 'serious' fiction. His evocations of the 'other' Washington — geographically proximate but also a world away from K Street, Georgetown and Capitol Hill — are superb. His capital city is a place of illegal dog fights, garbage-strewn lots and crack houses, a place where citizens wear 'Stop Snitchin' T-shirts and the cops refer to the murder of a drug dealer as a 'society cleanse.' But it is also a place where boys dream of being sports heroes, parents correct their children's grammar, and friends gather on porches for a twilight cocktail. Few other writers working today are able to depict both the lurid realm of street crime and the quiet aspirations of domestic life with such a deft touch. This is especially true when it comes to Pelecanos' heroes. What ultimately concerns him are the souls of his cops, not their case-closure rate. His three main characters feel compelled to solve Asa's killing for reasons that transcend the job. Ramone is no super-sleuth but a decent, somewhat overwhelmed man whose extraordinary commitment to the case stems from his desire to ease his son's hurt and confusion at the death of a friend. Holiday, meanwhile, sees the investigation as the opportunity to redeem himself from his soul-destroying status of 'dirty cop.' Cook, however, is the novel's most poignant character. Slowed by a stroke, he joins the hunt for the murderer to keep faith with a promise he made to the still-warm corpse of Eve Drake 20 years earlier. Although the 'Night Gardener' of the title is what the police call her killer (for his habit of dumping his victims in the city's numerous communal vegetable patches), it is the lonely, dignified Cook who proves the novel's true gardener, tending to the memories of young victims most others have forgotten. Stephen Amidon is the author of 'The New City' and 'Human Capital.'" Reviewed by Stephen Amidon, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"The more Pelecanos writes, the more he extends his range....One thinks of Michael Connelly, John Harvey, and Ian Rankin — other writers able to look inside their cop heroes with remarkable sensitivity — but Pelecanos' scalpel may cut more precisely than any of them." Booklist (Starred Review)
"The Night Gardener is another of Mr. Pelecanos's beautifully delineated moral tales, filled with gut-wrenching turns of fate and razor-sharp, boisterously vivid characters." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"Pelecanos creates another fascinating, completely believable hero whose supporting cast members all have their own great stories....Another winner from arguably our best contemporary crime writer..." Library Journal
"[T]he real attraction here, as usual with Pelecanos, is the tangle of untamed subplots....The setup screams Mystic River, but Pelecanos's olympian yet furiously impassioned take on urban violence remains his own." Kirkus Reviews
"George Pelecanos has been a gifted writer for a long time, but with The Night Gardener he reaches that sweet spot where talent, experience and sheer storytelling combine to produce the best book of his career." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"[Pelecanos] is more the heir of a novelist such as Richard Price, who pushes the boundaries of the form, than of mystery writers who adhere to them....[A] powerful and compelling book." Los Angeles Times
"In the end, The Night Gardener is powerful not because it is a good story well-delivered, though it is both of these. It is powerful because it uses all the power of fiction to answer questions that nonfiction never will be able to fully address." Denver Post
It's been 20 years since three teenagers were killed and their abused bodies were left in public parks. The case was never solved, but the two lead detectives on the case have pursued very different paths during the last two decades.
The haunting story of three cops — one good, one bad, one broken — and the murder that reunited them in a showdown decades in the making.
About the Author
George Pelecanos is an independent-film producer, an award-winning journalist, a producer and writer on the HBO hit series The Wire, and the author of a bestselling series of novels set in and around Washington, D.C., where he lives with his wife and children.
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