"The Night Gardener" is the latest book by George Pelecanos. I've never read him before but I'm familiar with his insanely great work on "The Wire" (the single greatest tv show I've ever seen). I'd read a couple of good review for the book so I picked up a copy.
The book opens with 3 Washington DC cops at the discovery site of the latest victim of a killer of children. The first is an older black detective who's been working to no avail on the case for several months. The other two are two fairly new white patrolmen. All are indelibly tagged by the crime which goes unsolved.
Jumping ahead 20 years events occur which lead to a reexamination of the opening scene's crime and the commission of several new crimes. The older detective is long retired and diminished by a severe stroke. One of the patrolmen was forced to resign for inappropriate behavior and now runs a small time chaffeuring business. The other patrolman is happily married detective and is primarily concerned with helping his son avoid the pitfalls of adolescence.
Pretty swiftly Pelecanos plunges his characters into the investigation of a series of murders, some seemingly related and others not. There are gangster obssessed petty criminals and one-time criminals hoping to avoid temptation and stay straight. Pelecanos' style is sharp and realistic and his cops sound and act like the ones I've known.
I'm still not sure if I really like the book. Pelecanos strives for a realistic portrayal of the lives of several cops, their associates and criminals but the book suffers from a little too much mundanity.
The serial killer plot line is great. Too often such characters are presented as super genius gamesmen. The real serial killer is usually a creepy loner who kills a handful of easy victims until their craziness leads to their capture. The weight that his crimes have burdened the three central characters with seems true and their sadness over their failure is palpable.
However, in the end there's too much going on. Pelecanos is striving to create a real police unit and its series of ongoing investigations. The problem is that none of the plotlines really are served well by what's a relatively short book (384 pp). I wanted a lot more of each bit.
When he has the luxury of hours of development as parts of an ongoing tv show that goal is attainable. Here it's a little distracting.