Genre: Crime Fiction, Washington DC, Mystery
Reading Challenges: 29 for 100+ in 2009

I can't call this book a thriller. It is so much more. It is, simply, the best crime novel I've read in several years. This book was my first introduction to George Pelecanos, and already I've added several more of his books to my TBR pile.

The Night Gardener begins in 1985, at the scene of a homicide committed by a serial killer known as "the night gardener"who has been targeting teenage victims. It is here that we are first introduced to three police officers: patrolmen Gus Ramone and Dan Holiday, and detective T.C. Cook. We are offered only a brief glimpse before the novel jumps to 2005. Gus Ramone, now a detective, divides his time between work and family. Dan Holiday is a cop no longer, but provides chauffeur services with security to the wealthy. T.C. Cook, now retired, is haunted by the faces of the serial killers victims, and longs to bring the killer to justice. The discovery of another homicide that bears remarkable similarities to the unsolved cases of twenty years ago brings these three men together.

Let me start my review with a warning. The dialogue in this book is extremely raw, including almost constant profanity and vulgar references. That being said, Pelecanos writes some of the best dialogue I've ever read. Personally, I wish the language could have been cleaner, but it might not have felt so authentic if that had been the case.

The Night Gardener really surprised me, in a good way. I was expecting a page-turning murder mystery which would resolve itself in a tidy black and white ending by the last page. Instead, I found a book which was almost a constant shade of gray, and which compelled me to keep reading because of the powerful questions it made me ask myself. I was especially impressed with the ending of the novel. I don't want to give anything away, so I'll simply say that for me I don't feel that it could have ended any other way.

I also appreciated that Pelecanos avoided so many of the typical plot devices that are present in so many crime novels. For once, I appreciated reading about a police officer who was a devoted husband and father, as opposed to a self-destructive hero. I was also fascinated by Pelecanos presentation of the racial tensions that are present in Washington D.C., and I appreciated that he was able to present more than one viewpoint. Pelecanos has made a fan of me with this one.

If you are looking for a crime novel with true substance, you can't do better than this. Just don't say I didn't warn you about the potty talk.

If you've read this, I'd love to hear what you think! Feel free to post links to your reviews in the comments.
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