DC, My Hometown: The Night Gardener, George Pelecanos


pelecanos coverLittle, Brown and Company, 2006

ISBN 0316156507 (ISBN13: 9780316156509)

In an interview with Scott Butki of Blogcritics magazine, Pelecanos is asked to comment on his detailed descriptions of Washington D.C. in The Night Gardener.

“I’m trying to leave a record of this town,” he answers, making this novel perfect for my Mysterious USA Reading Challenge because it describes the District so well.

One thing that really surprised me about DC when I first moved here in 2007 is the amount of city pride. From sweaters, to t-shirts to caps to flags to animal and baby clothing, sometimes it feels like the DC flag is stamped on everything and everyone in this city. Check out for example my neighbor’s Halloween display:

October 2013

October 2013

Pelecanos describes DC with the pride of a native, reveling in the District’s unique culture. He references music, neighborhood bars and locally famous criminals along with an almost cartographic description of the city, giving the novel a strong local flavor. The dialogue is superb.

More a crime novel than a mystery, Pelecanos focuses on the lives of the characters and the underlying tensions that lie below the surface more than on who committed the so-called Palindrome murders, which seem to have started again after a 20-year lull.

Staying true to the “DC theme” Pelecanos explores race relations, but he does it “from inside.” Pelecanos does not depict the aristocratic, Geogetown-living, Dupont Circle-dining, Capitol Hill-working DC often portrayed in movies and shows. Pelecanos’ DC is much more gritty and entertaining, if you ask me—especially because it does provide a record of parts of DC that many believe unworthy of being preserved and remembered because they are not NorthWest.

The story itself was interesting and kept my attention, and while I hadn’t figured it out by the end, I was a little underwhelmed. However, this novel was fantastic in every other way.

I loved the characters and how “real” and complicated they were. The book describes four police officers who are extremely different in many ways. However, the reader can empathize with each one or at least understand the reason for each cop’s particular situation. Through these characters and others, Pelecanos explores family, career, purpose, friendship, loyalty, self-respect, and several other issues.

I also loved the relationships between characters, both the cops and the “criminals.” Again, the dialogue was incredibly well written and communicated. Many of the minor characters were well developed and unforgettable, with their own set of complicated relationships and views of the world.

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