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The Night Gardener  
The Night Gardener cover.jpg
First edition cover
Author George Pelecanos
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Crime novel
Publisher Little Brown
Publication date 8 August 2006
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 384 pp
ISBN ISBN 0316156507 (Hardcover first edition)
OCLC Number 63108402
Dewey Decimal 813/.54 22
LC Classification PS3566.E354 N53 2006

The Night Gardener is a 2006 crime novel by George Pelecanos. It is set in Washington DC and focuses on homicide detective Gus Ramone and ex-cops Dan "Doc" Holiday and T.C Cook as they investigate the possible return of a serial killer.


Plot introduction

In the 1980s a trio of murders were linked to a single suspect. All three victims had palindromic first names and were found shot through the head in community gardens. The media dubbed the crimes the palindrome murders. TC Cook was the lead investigator at the time and two young officers were with him at the third crime scene, Gus Ramone and Doc Holiday. Twenty years later Cook is retired and Holiday has left the police. Ramone is a veteran homicide detective and he becomes involved in a case which has all the hallmarks of a palindrome murder. The others also realise the similarities drawing them into the investigation.[1]


Explanation of the novel's title

The perpetrator of the pallindrome murders was given the nickname The Night Gardener by detectives.


Gus Ramone is a family man and is married with two children. He is a veteran of the homicide unit. Dan "Doc" Holiday is a bachelor and since leaving the police has started a chauffeur and security firm. He left the police under the cloud of impending morals charges being investigated by Ramone. TC Cook is a retired homicide detective and is recovering from a stroke alone; he remains obsessed with the palindrome murders and his primary suspect Reginald Wilson.

Ramone is married to Regina and their children are named Diego and Alana. Gus is Italian-American while Regina is African-American. Regina works as a teacher but when she met Gus she was a police officer. Diego's friends include Shaka Brown, Ronald and Richard Spriggs and Asa Johnson. Their neighbours include Marita Bryant and Asa's parents Terrance and Helena Johnson. Diego has recently moved schools and is often in trouble for minor infractions with the assistant principle Mr. Guy and principle Ms. Brewster. His old principle Ms. Cynthia Best and teachers Robert Bolton and Andrea Cummings continue to work with his friends.

Ramone's partner is Rhonda Willis, a single mother and devout Christian. The homicide squad includes detectives Paul "Bo" Green, Anthony Antonelli, Mike Bakalis, Eugene Hornsby, George Loomis and Bill "Garloo" Wilkins. They work with Assistant U.S. Attorneys Margaret Healy and Ira Littleton. The squad is also working on the murder of Jacqueline Taylor. Their main suspect is Tyree Williams. Rhonda is the primary on the murder of Jamal White. Her investigation includes his friend Leon Mayo, girlfriend Darcia Johnson and her room mate Shaylene Vaughn. Shaylene and Darcia work for a pimp called Dominique Lyons.

Holiday is a regular at Leo Vazoulis' bar and his drinking associates include salesman Jerry Fink, freelance writer Bradley West and residential contractor Bob Bonano. He remains friends with officer James Ramirez.

Conrad Gaskins and Romeo Brock are stick-up men who make their living robbing drug dealers. Gaskin is a parolee and is dubious about his lifestyle. Brock is young, arrogant and motivated entirely by the prospect of building his reputation. They use drug addict Ivan "Fishhead" Lewis for information. Fishhead is also a confidential informant for corrupt police officer Grady Dunne. Brock and Gaskins' next target is drug dealer Tommy Broadus. Broadus' girlfriend is named Chantel Richards. Broadus is supplied clandestinely by kingpin Raymond Benjamin. He uses drug mule Edward Reese to bring Broadus his supply. Reese is the son of Benjamin's sister, Raynella. Benjamin also employs enforcers Michael "Mikey" Tate and Ernest "Nesto" Henderson.

Plot summary

The novel opens in 1985 at the scene of the discovery of a third victim of the "night gardener" and establishes Cook as the lead investigator and Ramone and Holiday as rookie cops. All three victims were found in community gardens, shot in the head, with semen and lubricant in their rectums. They were believed to have been redressed and moved after their murder. The book skips forward twenty years. Holiday has left the force and Ramone has become a homicide detective. Ramone is working with his squad on the murder of Jacqueline Taylor. They manage to arrest and extract a confession from her boyfriend Tyree Williams. The confession is backed by the physical evidence. Diego Ramone has a difficult day at school and plays basketball with his friends before going home. They see Asa Johnson walking through the neighborhood but he does not stop to speak to them. At home Ramone enjoys a happy family life and tries to mentor his son through the prejudices of his new school.

Holiday is working as a chauffeur and spends his free time drinking in a bar. He feels that he has little reason to get up in the morning. After work he trawls hotel bars and has a one night stand with a travelling saleswoman. He continues to drink afterwards and after getting lost falls asleep in his car near a community garden. He sees a patrol car with a passenger in the middle of the night. He also sees an African American male walking through the gardens. When he awakes he finds the body of Asa Johnson, who has a gunshot wound to the temple. He makes an anonymous call to the police.

Bill "Garloo" Wilkins is the primary investigator on the Johnson case. Ramone becomes involved because of the boys friendship with his son. He begins to notice similarities to the palindrome murders but keeps the information to himself. Terrance Johnson and his family are devastated by the death of their son and he pressures Ramone to find a suspect. The detectives recover a shell casing from the scene and the autopsy reveals semen in the victims rectum. Ramone learns that Johnson kept a journal but cannot find it at his school or home. Wilkins uncovers evidence that Johnson was homosexual on his home computer. Ramone recognises Holiday's voice on the tape of the anonymous call and tracks him through his friend Jake Ramirez.

Holiday also realises the similarity to the palindrome murders and contacts Cook. Cook is retired and has had a small stroke that has affected his reading. He continues to listen to police scanners and to observe the movements of Reginald Wilson. Wilson went to prison shortly after the last murder in the eighties and Cook still believes Wilson is the "night gardener." He is invigorated by the possibility of another chance to prove his theory and eagerly joins Holiday in an unofficial investigation.

Ramone arranges to meet with Cook and Holiday. It is revealed that Holiday left the force while being investigated by Ramone for the disappearance of a witness in an IAD case. Holiday reveals that he gave the girl money to leave town and was not otherwise involved in the actions of the corrupt detectives. Ramone maintains that his actions were immoral and that he allowed the detectives to remain free and commit a later murder. Holiday is truthful with Ramone about everything he saw on the night of Johnson's death. Cook tells Ramone about his suspicions over Wilson. Ramone finds that Wilson has an alibi for the night in question.

The night after the Johnson killing Rhonda Willis becomes the primary investigator on a new case, the murder of Jamal White. They find that the same gun was used in the deaths of White and Johnson. Willis learns that White was involved with a dancer named Darcia Johnson through his associate Leon Mayo. They have trouble finding her but discover that she is working for Dominique Lyons, a pimp. They arrange her mother staging an illness to draw her out of hiding. In the process they fortuitously catch and arrest Lyons along with Johnson. Johnson confesses that Lyons was angry about her relationship with White and that he bought a gun on the night of White's murder from an associate known as "Beano". The detectives trace and arrest Aldan "Beano" Tinsley and Ramone pressures him into revealing that he found the gun when walking through the gardens - Asa Johnson having already shot himself.

Diego is suspended from school for refusing to talk to Mr. Guy about a fight that one of his friends was involved in. Ramone believes the incident was not significant enough to warrant the punishment and meets with the Mr. Guy and the principle. They tell Ramone that they are expelling Diego because Ramone lied about their address to get him in to the school. Ramone is somewhat relieved because of his perception of institutional racism at the school.

Remembering the number of the patrol car from his night near the gardens Holiday asks Ramone to give him the identity of the driving officer. Ramone initially refuses but then relents after solving the White case. Holiday manages to identify the officer driving as Grady Dunne without Ramone's help. Ramone meets Holiday and tells him that Johnson's death was not related to the palindrome murders. Ramone convinces Holiday to identify Tinsley as the man he saw in the garden's on the night of Johnson's death in order to strengthen the White case because he abused the Tinsley's rights to get the information he needed. Holiday is surprised to find that Ramone is not as straight as he believed.

Ramone returns to the gardens and finds Johnson's journal hidden near where his body was found. He reads the diary in full and finds that Johnson had a relationship with a man who used the pseudonym "RoboMan". Ramone believes this was Johnson's math teacher Robert Bolton. Ramone resolves to trace the origins of the gun Johnson used. He talks to his son about the reasons for Johnson's suicide and learns that Johnson's father had a matching, unregistered weapon in his house. Ramone decides not to reveal Terrance Johnson's ownership of an illegal weapon as the family has suffered enough. He passes the information about the teacher on to the Morals Unit.

Holiday keeps the information about Johnson's suicide from Cook as he is worried it will demoralise him. Holiday and Cook follow Dunne to the gas station where Wilson works and are excited at the potential connection. They split up and Holiday confronts Dunne and realises that while he is corrupt he was not involved in Johnson's death. Holiday resolves to tell Cook the truth. Cook follows Wilson and then goes to his home with plans to break in. Cook approaches the house but becomes suddenly unwell and passes away in his car outside.

Holiday tells Ramone that Cook is missing and eventually finds his body. Holiday moves it to another location to diffuse the possibility of the press saying that Cook was still obsessed with the palindrome case. Holiday blames himself for Cook's death. He resolves to break into Wilson's home himself.

Gaskins and Brock receive information from "Fishhead" about a shipment of narcotics that Broadus is expecting. They follow Chantel to Broadus' house in order to gain entry and ambush him while Reese is delivering the shipment. They steal the payment for the drugs and Brock shoots Reese in the shoulder for laughing at him. Chantel switches her loyalty to Brock during the robbery and leaves with him. After the robbery Gaskins decides to leave the partnership despite his promise to Brock's mother that he would look after him. He worries that Brock is reckless and that their victims will seek revenge.

Benjamin hears about the robbery from his sister who insists on retribution for her son's injury. He entrusts the task of tracking Brock (and the money) to Tate and Henderson. They discover Brock's home by following Chantel. Benjamin meets them there and organizes an assault on the house. Tate is reluctant to be involved with violence and warns Chantel about the impending attack. She flees with Tate and the money. Benjamin and Henderson surprise Brock and find the money gone. As they interrogate Brock officer Dunne arrives. He has come seeking payment for the information he fed Brock through "Fishhead." He stumbles on the interrogation which deteriorates into a shootout. Brock, Benjamin and Dunne are killed and Henderson flees the scene.

The novel closes with a return to 1985 and the revelation that Wilson was responsible for the palindrome murders and hid trophies from each victim in his record collection.

Major themes

Pelecanos has stated that family is a major theme in the novel.

Critical reception

The book received very good reviews from critics. The review aggregator Metacritic reported the book had an average score of 90 out of 100, based on 18 reviews.[2]



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