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The Night Gardener, by George Pelecanos


The Night Gardener

The year is 1985, and several community gardens in Washington, D.C., yield a very strange crop, planted by a killer the police call the Night Gardener. Three teenagers are found in the gardens, murdered under similar circumstances. Sgt. T.C. Cook, the detective examining the last one, notes the many similarities of each. They all are shot in the head and show signs of sexual abuse, each missing a lock of hair. However, one similarity is bizarre. The names of the victims, Ava, Otto and Eve, are all palindromes, causing the media to refer to the killings as the palindrome murders. Sgt. Cook, already a legend in the police force for his ability to solve crimes, finds himself stumped by these murders. Two young uniformed police officers, Gus Ramone and Dan "Doc" Holliday, are posted to guard the scene of the third murder, and they observe the famous Detective Sgt. Cook with awe.

Twenty years later, the palindrome murders are still unsolved and almost forgotten until the body of a 14-year-old boy with a palindrome for a name is found in a community garden. Officer Holliday is no longer a cop, but runs his own limo service. Gus Ramone works as a detective in charge of the violent crimes branch, and the famous Sgt. Cook, long since retired, is remorseful at having failed to find the palindrome killer. Because of each one's interest in the original murders, they overcome past hurts, insults and regrets to work together to solve the current crime.

George Pelecanos does an excellent job in letting the listener feel the various emotions of the characters. His words and narration allow the listener to sense anger, frustration, bewilderment, loneliness, sadness, remorse, desire and love. His dialogue between cops, bar patrons, and even conversations between the criminals is realistic and believable. He creates characters who express feelings of anguish and sorrow, cynicism and regret. A subplot with a gangster wannabe who wants to make a name for himself as the biggest and baddest in town adds another dimension to the portrayal of criminal and police behavior.

This audio book is easy to recommend for anyone who enjoys a good mystery with authentic characterization. Not only are the characters vividly drawn in this police procedural novel, but the story is crafted with enough twists and revelations to keep the reader guessing until the unexpected conclusion. Whether it's a parent who has lost a child or a cop who has lost a dream, Pelecanos is able to make the reader understand the motivations and reactions of each. His masterful use of dialogue creates a world of intense drama that seesaws between brutality and tenderness and takes the listener along as though eavesdropping.

John Mormon

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