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by George Pelecanos
Little, Brown, August 2006
384 pages
ISBN: 0316156507

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Don't you just long for crime writers who live in the real world and see the wider picture. Which is why George Pelecanos should be prized above rubies.

THE NIGHT GARDENER is a rich, vibrant, multi-layered book with both the characters and the city of Washington vivid and alive in front of the reader's eyes. On the surface it's a police procedural, but that's a bit like saying King Lear's about a family squabble.

A teenager is found dead in a community garden. For homicide detective Gus Ramone, it brings back unpleasant memories of an unsolved case from 20 years ago when he was a rookie. He and his partner Dan 'Doc' Holiday were minor players as legendary detective TC Cook investigated a series of killings where the young victims were killed overnight in parks.

Holiday left the police under a cloud and is now working as a bodyguard and chauffeur. Cook is retired, but has never been able to put the case from his mind. The latest death pulls the three of them back together in uneasy circumstances. And it has an extra dimension for devoted family man Ramone, as the murdered teenager Asa was a friend of his son Diego.

Alongside the investigation are people's stories -- and as always with Pelecanos, they matter. There's the grandmother bringing up her daughter's baby. There are the losers who hang out with Holiday bullshitting their lives away. These cameos don't slow up the story; they are integral to it.

Pelecanos addresses the big issues without pontificating. And race, as in many of his books, is never far from the surface. Ramone, the Italian who has married a black woman, has to deal with the racism his children suffer every day -- being ejected from shops, stopped on the street by police, discriminated against at school.

THE NIGHT GARDENER is far more than a simple crime novel. It has top-quality writing, characterisation so vivid you believe you know the people, and flawless plotting. Pelecanos is probably the finest writer in the crime fiction field, and people will still be reading him in 50 and 100 years time.

The book is riveting, powerful and poignant. As usual with Pelecanos there are no easy answers, nor trite, too-tidy endings. His books mirror life very uncomfortably and uncompromisingly.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, July 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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