Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Book Review: The Night Gardener

When I started this book, I resented my making it a book club selection. The very first paragraph is terribly written, so much so that I had to reread it three times. The author is a writer on The Wire, but good television writing and good novel writing are very different. The clumsy exposition in the first chapter alone was cringworthy, and it does not get better for some time.

For the first hundred pages, Pelecanos seems to be taking a leaf from the King playbook by using details like brand names, contemporary cultural phenomena, and actual locations to concretize his characters and setting. This is okay in moderation, but as executed here it is tiresome in the extreme. Slogging through all these details (yes, I get it, you're familiar with the area) is tedious, and not all of them ring true. For example, he refers to a nurse wearing a white uniform. How many R.N.s still wear whites?

Once the author finally switches gears and begins showing how the characters and their personalities drive the plot, though, the book becomes engaging. A young teen boy is found shot in a community garden in D.C.; the death has certain parallels to a string of twenty-year-old murders by a killer dubbed "the Night Gardener." The book is half about the mystery of whether the Gardener is killing again and half about the people who are involved in the investigation. There's a subplot about some criminals who are more realistic (read: less successful) versions of Omar Little that is eventually tenuously linked to the main plot. This was interesting, but it makes the book a bit shaggy: more about D.C., and less about the investigations. In some ways, it's very like The Wire, which is about Baltimore, not the characters. If you enjoy that show, you'll probably like this book (if you can suffer through the first dozen chapters, that is).
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