Crime in a George Pelecanos novel is so confronting and unnerving that it is almost as unsettling as reading true-crime. His depictions of squalor, violence, bangers, urban poverty, and police procedures are as real and engrossing as his characters. In THE NIGHT GARDNER, Pelecanos delivers everything I’ve come to expect – deep characterisation, a free flowing yet multidimensional plot and most of all, pure noir amongst a backdrop of a heinous crime. Adding yet another string to this impressive bow, is the sense of continuity with Gus and Doc living in the same fictional world as Derek Strange (Quinn and Strange PI novels) and the criminal known as Red Fury (WHAT IT WAS) of which the wannabe gangers of THE NIGHT GARDNER idolise with a deluded sense of hero-worship.
Detective Gus Ramone, haunted and a little segregated from the inner circle of policing due to his sting in IA is tasked with solving a homicide of a young man which has similar hallmarks to a string of murders 20yrs ago. Back then, Gus as a green beat cop along with Doc were in awe of the T.C. Cook, a solid detective with an exception case closure rate. Fast forward to present day, Gus is now a leading homicide police, Doc is driving cars after a less than honourable discharge from the force and Cook is retired and on his last legs – yet all three become reunited by a crime never solved which seems to have surfaced once again.
THE NIGHT GARNDER, while predominantly a police procedural with noir trappings is really about character and the challenges that face inner city living minorities and heartache. Gus, a father first, sees this latest crime hit too close to home with the latest vic, Asa, a boyhood friend of his teenage son. Coupled with that loss is the undercurrent of racial vilification at the school Gus’ son attends and other such incidences which threaten to send Gus’ family into a downward spiral.
While Doc, a cop turned driver turned bordering alcoholic, the chance to be involved in a real case literally falls in his lap. Adding to the discovery of the body is a shady recollection through a drink infused haze which also threatens to test the mantle of another cop who may or may not have been in the vicinity of the crime when it was committed. Doc, seeks out Cook in a bid to right his wrong and shine his somewhat tarnished rep that forced him out of policing and finally put a stop to the killings.
THE NIGHT GARDNER is one of the best novels I’ve read by Pelecanos. He manages to create a real sense of time and place, putting the reader inside the shoes of Gus, Doc, and others. While THE NIGHT GARNDER is a standalone, I found it beneficial and more enjoyable having read WHAT IT WAS prior, as the character Red Fury, eluted to in THE NIGHT GARNDER is seen in a whole new light having read about his escapades and criminal legend in the Derek Strange novel.
In summary – a must read for fans of Derek Strange, Washington D.C. crime fiction, THE WIRE, and noir. 5 stars.
George Pelecanos recommended reading list:
My review of HARD REVOLUTION can be found here: http://justaguythatlikes2read.blogspot.com/2012/09/review-hard-revolution-by-george.html
My review of WHAT IT WAS can be found here: