‘The Night Gardener’ – Book Review

This article originally appeared on Lit To Lens on Mar. 30, 2016.

Title: The Night Gardener
Author: George Pelecanos
Year Of Publication: 2006
Genre: Crime Fiction

We begin in 1985. There’s been a trio of similar murders – murders of children with palindromic names, all found in community gardens. The press dubs these “The Palindrome Murders” and internally, within Washington D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), the suspect (whoever he/she is) is referred to as the Night Gardener.

In 1985, homicide detective T.C. Cook is the lead on the case. We’re also introduced to Gus Ramone and Doc Holiday, two young police.

We then quickly jump forward to 2005, where Holiday is now an ex-cop and runs a limo-slash-security service, and Ramone works homicide. Cook is retired. One day, a young boy is found dead in a community garden with, yes, the palindromic name Asa, and a few more characteristics similar to those 1985 murders.

It turns out that Asa was friends with Ramone’s son, making the police work hit that much closer to home for the detective. Asa’s death also reconnects Holiday to Ramone, reopening their unresolved, shared history.

In some ways “The Night Gardener” is a marvelous book. Pelecanos knows his way around D.C., and the detail and accuracy with which he describes location and direction keeps this novel useful to non-residents who can’t seem to get their GPS to work. And you’re not going to the touristy parts.

Pelecanos also has a sharp ear for dialog, there can be no doubt of that. Part of it comes from the journalistic research he did, as the novel’s acknowledgements indicate he spent some time with the MPD, observing their rhythms and listening to their conversations – many of which are not exactly politically correct, as Pelecanos himself admits.

I read this book thinking about True Detective, and how a story as lived-in and richly textured as this would translate to the small screen. On any of those prestige channels. It’s an unfair thought, since the possibility of that happening is unknowable. But Pelecanos, a veteran of “The Wire,” puts that into my mind. Some stories just ask for the camera. This is one of them.

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