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Showing 1-10 of 22 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 111 reviews
VINE VOICEon March 28, 2011
I enjoy good genre fiction as much as the next person, but this book from George Pelecanos defies genre and really description. It is just a truly fantastic book.

This is my first Pelecanos book, but I've admired his writing on shows such as the Wire and works by comtemporaries such as Richard Price and Dennis Lehane. This difficult to read novel puts him at the top of that list of masters however.

The story is not complicated. In 1985, a serial killer drops three bodies in DC, all of them teenagers with Palindrome names. He is called both the Night Gardener for where he dumps his bodies and the Palindrome Killer for his choice of victims.

Fast Forward 20 years and the homicide cop working the case is retired, widowed and recovering from a stroke. Two beat cops on the scene have taken different paths. One has been drummed out of the apartment and leads a lonely existance as a limo driver. The other has worked his way up to be homicide. They are all brought together when a teen named Asa is found dead in another garden.

The story deftly weaves many different plots. Between the police, the retired police and an assortment of gangsters that wind up relating to the main story. Pelecanos is excelelnt at the police procedural, but his true mastery comes with the dynamics of the characters. Homicide detective Gus Ramone and his family that is dealing with the death of the teen, who his son knew. Asa's father, a man both heartbroken and monstrous. Doc Holiday, the limo driving ex cop who floats uselessly through life until trying to find out who the Night Gardener is.

The book isn't happy and all the ends aren't neatly tied for the reader. Some are and some aren't, much like life itself. That is what sets this book apart from so many others in the genre. It shows life, not a cartoon version of it, just life in all its glory and misery. I give it my highest recommendation.
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on December 19, 2010
The Night Gardener is an excellent book. It is a great book for the same reasons that The Wire, for which Pelecanos wrote, is a great television show. While it is set against the crime drama framework, underneath it is actually about something much larger than the crime being depicted.

An important distinction needs to be made here. The Night Gardener is not a mystery. It is not a thriller. It is not even a police procedural, in the traditional sense. The Night Gardener is a tragedy and a crime drama with a dose of social commentary (as all good crime dramas have). The serial killer aspect described in the synopsis is practically a subplot. It is not a book where the question, "What is it about?" can be answered by just giving a synopsis of the plot. It is not a book where `thought-provoking' means the reader will be trying to pick up contradictions in the stories of the witnesses, trying to figure out which clues are important and how they may lead the detective to the criminal, or trying to solve the crime before the main characters. If you're just looking for a thriller, or a mystery, or a story where every sentence is bringing you one step closer to solving the crime, then The Night Gardener isn't for you.

As an example, in one scene Gus Ramone (one of the cops investigating the death of a kid) gets a phone call because something interesting was discovered in the ballistics report from the bullet that killed the kid. In a typical mystery/thriller Gus would have drove back to the station, confirmed the findings in the report, and gone out to find the suspect. In The Night Gardener, Gus thanks the caller for the information, goes home, grabs a bite to eat, kisses his kids goodnight, crawls into bed with his wife, and deals with the ballistics report in the morning.

The important parts of The Night Gardener happen when the crime is not being dealt with. One of the major themes in the book is about personal identity. Specifically, what is it that defines us? Is it where we live? Our ethnicity? Our job? Who our friends are? It is all of those things, plus a lot more. But above all else, it is our family. What The Night Gardener does is it takes those things that define us, pits them against the problems of the society that we live in, and lets the conflict play out... for better or for worse.

As with any book by Pelecanos, the writing is excellent. The characters feel fully developed and the dialogue sounds natural. This is a great book and I highly recommend it.
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on May 21, 2009
First I want to say that I have not read any of his other books, so I did't have anything to compare it to. Also, I did purchase it because of the price. That being said...

I do see some of the issues that other people said they didn't like. There are an awful lot of characters to keep up with. There's the good cop/bad cop/ex-cop/, the many criminals, etc....It wasn't really anything new and original, you've probably heard it all before.

I do disagree with those who said that there was no plot. If anything, there are 2-3 plots going on at the same time, and perhaps he tried to shove in too many stories into one book.

I know I will sound like a fuddy duddy, and I know it's one of those "grity police dramas", but I did get tired of the bad language after awhile. I really do not think that all the "f" words add to the greatness of the book, no matter how they might talk in the real world. I also found it funny that they kept asking for "Slice"...started to wonder if he got a payoff from the Cola company for each time he mentioned it's name, lol.

For those who said that the Palindrome issue was never solved, it was in the last chapter, along with whodunit.

Despite a few things (like those mentioned above) being a little distracting to me, I still enjoyed it enough to finish the book, and still wanted to know whodunit at the end, which I think is important. If by the middle of the book you are not sure you can finish it, and no longer care whodunit, that's a bad sign. I do think he put in a lot more time in all the beginnings to the stories though, and then kinda rushed the ending.

I do not know if I will purchase any of his other books, but would be willing to purchase any of them that are offered at a discount.
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on December 4, 2011
I've read three Pelecanos novels, and I always have the very strong sensation that I'm reading a book written by somebody trained in journalism. I don't know if Pelecanos is or was a journalist, but to me his writing is very newspaper-like. That is, it's full of descriptions that aren't really necessary: perhaps they work in a feature article, but I think there are way too many of them for a novel. In a novel, I don't need to and don't want to get the who-what-when-where-why on every page. In a mystery or police procedural I want a compelling story line and I want it, not the descriptions, to dominate the book. In the end, it's the descriptions and atmosphere that dominate this novel and weigh it down. I remember the descriptions and atmosphere way more than I remember the story line.
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on October 6, 2009
I purchased this book when it was available on Kindle for $1 and it proved to be well worth the price. I had never read Pelecanos before so I wasn't sure what to expect. He weaves many characters into this book in a style more akin to Charles Dickens than crime mystery writers. There were a few times when the violence and details became more than I am accustomed to but I stuck with it and was glad of that. The detective Gus Ramone and the ex-cop Doc Holiday are the driving characters. I actually came to like Holiday more than Ramone as the book progressed because he seemed more alive and less stiff than Ramone. I suspect that I will pick up another Pelecanos book sometime soon because this one made me think and care about the characters and, based on some of the reviews, it isn't even one of his best books.
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on May 25, 2015
I'm a huge fan of Pelecanos' work and this book just adds to my love for his writing. Being a life long D.C resident his use of the city as a character is like getting a ride in a time machine for me, being able to see history through various eyes and perspectives. It also makes me brush up on D.C history too.
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on February 25, 2007
Washington, DC, homicide detective Gus Ramone is unlike Dirty Harry or Harry Bosch or almost any of the maverick cops who, always ready with a smart one-liner, that fill the pages of modern crime fiction. "Ramone" is a straight-shooting, by-the-books humble investigator with strong family ties simply doing his best to "protect and serve." With Ramone as the centerpiece, the talented George Pelecanos pens a thoughtful and intelligent murder mystery the rises to near the top of the genre.

When a teenager is found dead any apparently murdered in a Washington DC community garden, similarities with a string of murders two decades prior send chills of a return of the never-caught serial killer through DC's Violent Crimes Division. T.C. Cook was the police sergeant in charge of the original investigations, now retired but still obsessed with the big case he was unable to solve. In an unlikely alliance with "Doc" Holiday, a once-partner of Ramone, Cook and the alcohilic Holiday team up to "help" Ramone, while at the same time hopefully burying old ghosts.

This is a well-crafted police procedural with more logic and emotion than action. The demons that trouble all three of the protagonists - Ramone, Holiday, and Cook - are carefully rendered and believable, and the story, if not exactly a page turner, is suspenseful and credible. All in all, a poignant spin on a familiar topic - a hauntingly realistic read that is well worth the time and money.
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on May 14, 2009
I only bought this because of the price and I figured that even if it was horrible it would be something to read and I only wasted two bucks.
The book is surprisingly good. I actually found myself becoming hooked on the plot and characters and even found it hard to put the book aside when I had other things to do.
Now my mother on the other hand would have given it one star because she can't stand stories that jump back and forth from one character to another. So if you're like her and can't stand a story that follows multiple characters, you won't enjoy this at all.
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on October 5, 2016
The cop talk in this book is realistic, and it flows in an organic way. The story however, seems like an afterthought.
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on May 6, 2013
I randomly came across Pelecanos' novel Hard Revolution at the library, was quickly engrossed and enjoyed it thoroughly. I downloaded this book last night and found it as enticing. Great characters, quick moving, good historical references without being bogged down with random details and fluff. Now I know not to pick up a Pelecanos book unless I have the time to read it straight through.
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