Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fans of the Wire Gift Idea: Night Gardener

For the longest time, I thought George Pelecanos was on the cusp of becoming one of the great mystery writers of the day. I thought his early books, set in DC and its environs, were good, but not great. The Derek Strange books were the first books of his books that really showed his capability and his work on the Wire has been excellent. Those who like the Wire would be well advised to read his Night Gardener, which is one of the best mysteries in years.

Like a season of the Wire, the Night Gardener follows a few apparently unrelated police, criminal and civilian subplots that converge in tragedy (another Wire trademark.) The main story line focuses on the possibility that a series of unsolved child murders, by the Night Gardener, has started again. The main characters of the story were on the scene of the final murder and work to see if the killer is indeed back.

Pelecanos has always focused on the everyday residents of DC and the terrible effects of crime on their lives. He is more effective than usual here with more than one sad story of bad decisions leading to worse ends. While not letting criminals off the hook, in fact they nearly all end badly, Pelecanos emphasizes that the society plays a part in people turning to crime. He also takes a few swipes at the drug war, another theme from the Wire. He isn't a polemicist though, he is much more interested in how people try to hold their lives together in a violent place.

Pelecanos is fascinated by vernacular and the meaningless conversations people use to kill time and to hide from their problems. This has always been a factor in his books, particularly debates about music, but here it feels more natural than it has in the past. This could grate for some readers and it may seem pointless.

As an added bonus, the book is out in mass market paperback, making it as cheap as some socks and a much more exciting stocking stuffer.

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