THE NIGHT GARDENER by George Pelecanos

Book Reviews
THE NIGHT GARDENER by George Pelecanos
Aug 8, 2006, 14:18

THE NIGHT GARDENER by George Pelecanos; Little Brown, Inc., 2006

In the last 14 years, George Pelecanos has pounded out an average of a book a year. And while his stock was uniformly high amongst Your Flesh readers from the beginning thanks to rave reviews and his own contributions to the magazine, he's now a writer of the highest profile who is routinely covered in the biggest publications. In the last few years he's split his time between working as an author and as writer and producer for HBO's The Wire without a drop in quality for his work in either medium. In fact, the DC author had to follow up two of the best books of his career Drama City and Hard Revolution with The Night Gardener.

Pelecanos's DC settings are worlds of gray moral values where no one is beyond reproach and often the cops can be as flawed and dirty (if not dirtier) as the criminals. That paradigm changes on The Night Gardener—here we have two genuine Police and one former bad egg looking for redemption, or at least purpose.

Either a standalone or the beginning of a new series for the author, The Night Gardener has characters that reflects the life of the author. A real-life father with a mixed race family, Pelecanos here writes, through the book's main voice of DC Violent Crimes detective Gus Ramone, convincingly about the delicate dance parents do to keep their teenagers on the straight and narrow. That Ramone and his wife aren't of the same race adds tension, primarily for Ramone and his son.

It's a small and more personal thing like family life that makes this a markedly different book than The Hard Revolution, which seamlessly intertwined stories within the big picture context of the DC riots. The book prominently displayed the author at the height of his powers as he wove a rich tapestry of fiction and history together—the only real knock against The Night Gardener is that it seemingly lacks the ambition and scope of that predecessor.

Like this one, Drama City was a smaller book about an ex-con who worked for the Humane Society, but Pelecanos took a fairly two-dimensional plot that could have been worked into The Wire (in an altered form) and wrote a powerful piece of fiction that illustrated the author's impressive sense of craft.

Right there with his previous two books, The Night Gardener is Pelecanos at the very highest level. There are plenty of well-drawn plot twists and heart-pumping payoffs, but he's focused on the very un-hip concept of Ramone's family being his moral compass. And that makes this one special.

-Tad Hendrickson

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