George Pelecanos,
The Night Gardener
(Hachette, 2006)

George Pelecanos' novel The Night Gardener has been released in an abridged version in audiobook format by Hachette Audio. George has written several novels including Drama City and Hard Revolution -- audiobooks I've reviewed in the past. George is also a writer on the HBO series The Wire. He has produced independent films. Finally, he has ventured in to the area of narrating audiobooks; case in point being The Night Gardner.

Back in the mid-'80s there were a series of murders known as the Palindrome Murders. The killer went after young men and women whose names were spelled the same forward and backwards. This killer, nicknamed "The Night Gardener" because of where he left his victims, was never caught. The killings simply stopped. Or so it seemed. Almost 20 years later, a young man is found dead in one of the city parks. His name is Asa. Like the previous victims, he has semen in his rectum. Like previous victims, there is no sign of rape leading the authorities to believe that the victims are sexually assaulted after death. Has the Night Gardener returned? This similarities are too much to ignore.

Three men, Homicide Det. Gus Ramone, Dan "Doc" Holiday and retired Homicide Det. T.C. Cook, are brought together two decades after working the last palindrome case. Ramone and Holiday were just past rookie status when they were at the scene of the last murder in the '80s. Cook had 24 years on the force at the time. In the intervening years, Ramone became a homicide detective, Holiday was essentially forced off the force due to morals charges brought against him, and Cook retired, bothered that these murders were never solved even though he had a good hunch who the killer was.

The Night Gardener is really several stories in one. Ramone might be thought of as the main character. He is in a biracial marriage and has to deal with racism against his kids. There are little side jaunts in this direction as the main story evolves. Holiday might have been heading down the wrong road when forced out of police work, but he still feels he was "good police" and wants the chance to prove it. His part of the story follows more closely with Cook's as these two "civilians" work the case together much on their own. On top of this, there are several criminal types, from a wife murderer to thieves to drug runners to a tainted policeman to the Night Gardener, making their appearance in the novel.

Some of the stories are not as connected as you might at first think. But you won't find that out until almost the end of the novel.

Pelecanos is a much better writer than he is a narrator. He has a very monotone delivery style. Most of the characters come off sounding virtually identical. About the only emotion ever projected is apathy. As such, I found myself drifting off and having to hit the back button multiple times during this six-hour story. I found the story engaging once I finally got into it. George is simply a boring reader and could not maintain my attention for long durations.

I'm not sure I really want to recommend this audiobook. I will recommend the story. The Night Gardener is definitely entertaining. I felt sorry for a few of the characters and felt others got what they deserved. But as far as the audiobook is concerned, I could not help but think what I was missing since this was an abridged version of the book. And while I did get past Pelecanos's narrative style in the end, I know I cannot recommend the audiobook because he detracted more from his own novel instead of breathing more life into it. So, if you like George's work, buy the book and read it yourself.

review by
Wil Owen

16 February 2008

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