Click here to read reviewer Wendy Runyon's take on The Night Gardener.
A series of unsolved murders rocks southeast Washington, DC, in 1985. Three teenagers are shot and killed, their bodies left in a local community garden; the suspect is nicknamed The Night Gardener. The victims share a common trait: all of their names are palindromes, spelled the same backwards as forwards.
Despite the best efforts of “The Mission Man,” Detective JC Cook, the murders are never solved and he retires without the satisfaction of resolution. Two other officers are notable at the time, for varying reasons: Gus Ramone and Dan “Doc” Holiday, who will be forced to resign under suspicion of misconduct.
Twenty years later, there is another murder, eerily similar to those of the Night Gardener: a teenager is found shot in a local community garden. One of the detectives assigned is none other than Gus Ramone, who immediately makes the connection to the 1985 crimes. To further complicate the issue for Ramone, the victim is an acquaintance of his teenaged son.
Collateral events place Doc Holiday at the scene of the teenager’s death, and Ramone reluctantly seeks out Holiday’s information. Holiday, in turn, contacts JC Cook, now an old man near the end of his life who has never given up on solving the 1985 murders. Though no longer on the job, the two ex-cops and Ramone form an uneasy coalition in service to solving the crimes, old and new: “They were driving toward a cliff. The doors were locked and the car had no brakes.”
In the midst of encroaching gentrification, the daily chaos continues, a ceaseless battle against drugs, petty crimes, assaults, dealers and enforcers, a generation defeated by the promise of temporary oblivion, all as carefully constructed as a house of cards in the face of a hurricane.
In this intricate mix of good cops, bad cops and complex moral issues, the author’s intimate knowledge of the area adds authenticity to the plot - the rough streets, ordinary, hard-working people who live in the blighted neighborhoods, eccentric characters, petty crooks who prey on the helpless, overworked parents intent on saving their children from the dangers lurking on every corner.
The author’s talent for storytelling imbues this novel with its distinct heartbeat, those with nothing left to lose yielding ground to those who have the power to buy peace of mind and the graft and crime that grow in the breach. Ramone, Cook and Holiday juggle personal challenges with the events that have defined their careers in an informative ride-along that takes nothing for granted.