The latest from George Pelecanos (Drama City, Soul Circus) is a literary mystery titled The Night Gardener. Though it comes up a bit shy in both departments the novel is nonetheless a well-written, atmospheric, character-driven epic that some will find to be an ear-bending thriller.
The story starts off in 1985. The body of a fourteen-year-old black girl is found in a park located in the southeast section of Washington, D.C. The media dubs the killer “The Night Gardener” since the location of the found bodies is a community garden. The black girl is the third victim to be found. On the case is one of the city’s best (but ageing) detectives, TC Cook. Under his wing are the adrenaline-infused Dan “Doc” Holiday and Gus Ramone, both past being rookies yet not quite the grizzled veterans they will come to be. Focused law enforcement veteran that he is, TC is eventually forced to abandon the case once the murders abruptly end, leaving nothing resolved.
Like all cases a detective can’t shake, “The Night Gardener” becomes one that none of the men forget. Flash-forward twenty years to 2005. Detective Ramone, now married with kids of his own, investigates the murder of one of his son’s friends, one eerily similar to the unsolved murders from twenty years ago. Soon Doc, TC and Ramone are back together in an effort to solve the case, but to also exorcise their personal demons as they reach the climactic ending.
Like most audio books read by the author, The Night Gardener suffers from Pelecanos’ droll reading. Though comparisons to the likes of Michael Connelly might be made, this audio performance just isn’t at that level; Len Cariou is amazing when performing Connelly’s works. Perhaps it’s more suited to the printed form where the voices, characters, and inflections made inside your head fit much better. Overall, The Night Gardener is a compelling mystery for those who aren’t as concerned with audio performances.