I love it when it’s been so long since I placed a book on hold that I forget about it and then all of a sudden it pops up on my hold shelf, like a gleaming, sparkling birthday present, just for me.
I discovered George Pelecanos about a year ago when I noticed that Michael Connelly, one of my favorite authors, gave him a positive blurb on one of his books. My respect for Pelecanos went up another notch when I found out that he’s one of the writers of HBO’s fabulous The Wire. He is a mystery writer, but like most excellent mystery writers, his novels go beyond the usual whodunnits that you can knock out during a short airplane flight or a sleepy afternoon.
His novels are set in and around urban Washington D.C., featuring rough but noble characters brought up on the streets, who know the lure of the culture of drugs and violence but know that resisting them is sometimes the most courageous thing a person can do. They are wounded characters who seek to redeem themselves, often with a cause tied in to the novel. Pelecanos is also the most gifted writer I’ve ever read when it comes to the character’s voices – his characters live and breathe and hurt on the page, and his dialogue is so seductively real you feel like you’re in the middle of a shaky-camera documentary rather than a novel.
The Night Gardner follows three characters who were on the scene during a series of murders in the 1980s. Two patrolmen and a detective never solved the case, but the murders suddenly stopped and the three drifted apart. In the present day a murder occurs that has very similar markings and the three are pulled back into orbit again. The detective is now an old man, retired, who does little but sit at home, listen to the police scanner, and dream of somehow fulfilling his promise he made to the parents of the murder victims twenty-five years ago. One of the patrolmen quit the force under shady circumstances and is now an alcoholic who drives a limo but still thinks of what kind of officer he was and what could have been. The other patrolman is now a straight-arrow detective with a son who shares similarities to the murder victims. These three personalities provide the center for a novel where these and other characters collide and mesh and interact in ways that would make other novelists hang their heads in awe and shame.
It was one of those books where you close the cover and put it back on the shelf, but the characters still exist in your head, living with you for a little bit.
So yeah, I guess you could say that I liked it.