Pelecanos, George. The Night Gardener.

NY: Little, Brown, 2006.

Pelecanos has a huge fan base but I had never read any of his stuff. This one was recommended by a friend and it’s pretty good — but it’s also kind of strange. Gus Ramone is a police sergeant in D.C., where this author seems to set all of his stories. He’s a senior detective in the large homicide unit (400+ murders a year, mostly Black and Hispanic, mostly drug-related), he’s married with two kids, and he sees what he does as a job at which he is very competent, but not as a mission.

He’s been “a police” too long for that. Back in 1985, when he was a young patrolman, there was a string of sex-murders of adolescents that were never solved, and which were investigated by Sgt. T. C. Cook, a cop with a 90% closure rate. Now Ramone is, in certain respects, his generation’s Sgt. Cook. His patrol partner back then was “Doc” Holiday, who didn’t do as well, having been pushed off the force for too close an association with prostitutes — but it’s apparent Holiday’s swaggering personality would soon have led him down the wrong path anyway. Now Doc is operating a two-car limo service and drinking his bitter evenings away. Then there’s a whole other group of characters from the other side of the social spectrum — druggies, pushers, and money-men, some wanting to establish a legendary street reputation, a few of them trying to escape the life, many of them willing to kill without hesitation — though the Good Guys and the Bad Guys all come from mostly the same social and ethnic background. And that commonality is the basic underpinning of the multiple plot-lines, the fact that it’s largely the choices one makes in life that determine one’s future, not which side of the tracks one started on.

One of those plot-lines involves the discovery of another apparent murder of a teenager that closely resembles those of twenty years ago. Another thread begins with the shooting of a young ex-offender a short distance away a few nights later, and which will have unexpected connections to it. Yet another revolves around Ramone’s home life and especially his relationship with his teenage son, who is beginning to feel all the pressures of living in Southeastern D.C., and about whom Ramone worries constantly. A fourth thread focuses on Holiday’s search for some sort of redemption as he hooks up with the retired and now elderly Sgt. Cook, who has never forgotten those earlier murders. All of these interrelated stories are very well handled and the character portraits are extremely vivid. The resolution of the main story, though — and not everything actually is resolved — depends on a rather unsettling coincidence. But coincidences do happen in real life, and Pelecanos seems to make it work. (However, I think I would have omitted the very last brief flashback chapter. It’s okay, sometimes, to leave the reader wondering.)

Published in: on 31 July 2012 at 1:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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