George Pelecanos

The Night Gardener

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The Night Gardener Summary

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Set in contemporary Washington D.C., best-selling novelist George Pelecanos’s crime thriller The Night Gardener begins twenty years in the past with a wave of murders thought to be the work of a serial killer. It then fast-forwards to the present, when the two detectives who worked the original case are forced to come out of retirement and work together to solve another murder case that has the same trademark as the serial killer they called The Night Gardener.

Detectives Gus Ramone and Dan Holliday are sent to investigate the murder of fourteen-year-old Eve Drake, who was found in the community gardens in Washington D.C. with a gunshot to the head. Eve Drake is the third victim in a series of killings. The killer seems to be obsessed with palindromes – the other victims were OttoWilliams and Ava Simmons. The killer physically assaults all of his victims before killing them, and the then officers Ramone and Holliday were disturbed and obsessed with the case, which eventually ran dry despite the efforts of Sgt. TC Cooke, who was leading the investigation. The team dubbed the killer The Night Gardener, as his victims are dumped in community gardens.

The years pass, and Ramone quickly moves from a grunt to a solid cop, whose testimony forces his former co-officer Holliday out of the force due to an internal investigation. After leaving the force, Holliday started a chauffeur and security company and began drinking heavily at a local bar owned by Leo Vazoulis. Promoted, Ramone became a veteran homicide detective, which is why this new case, the murder of Asa Johnson, a friend of Ramone’s son, ended up on his desk.

The Asa Johnson murder has all the characteristics of the Night Gardener killings. Johnson had been shot in the temple and sexually assaulted before his death. Soon, Holliday finds out from his friend James Ramirez, who is still on the force that the Night Gardener might be back in action. Holliday quickly gets in touch with former Sgt. TC Cooke, now retired and recovering from a recent stroke. Cooke is still obsessed with the case, and he and Holliday begin to discuss a potential suspect that Cooke never had the means to convict. The suspect, Reginald Watson, was just released from prison after nineteen years behind bars, and both Cooke and Holliday see a clear connection between Watson’s imprisonment and the Night Gardener’s two decades of silence.

As the men investigate the murder of Asa Johnson – Ramone using police resources and Holliday and Cooke using their own unconventional methods – a number of subplots keep characters busy and further develop the plot. Ramone’s wife, Regina, an African-American schoolteacher, sneaks their children, Diego and Alana, into a more prestigious suburban school, though they live outside the neighborhood. Diego struggles to find his place in this predominantly white community, making few friends. Meanwhile, a number of other criminal activities build suspense, including the mysterious death of a house painter and the struggle of an ex-drug dealer to keep his own cousin from following the same path he did.

Ramone’s partner, Rhonda Willis, becomes the lead investigator on another murder – the death of Jamal White – and quickly discovers that Asa and Jamal’s deaths share a murder weapon. Events become convoluted as various detectives learn, through the eventual discovery of Asa’s journal, that the boy likely killed himself in the garden. Cooke, who is obsessed with the case and his belief that it was perpetrated by the lost palindrome killer, stalks Willis and Ramone, only to finally succumb to his poor health and pass away in his car.

Ultimately, the plot turns out less of a serial-killer drama and more of an investigation of urban violence, secrets, and life in Washington, D.C.

American George Pelecanos is the author of twenty crime novels, all set in his home city of Washington, D.C. He also serves as a film and TV producer and a television writer. He has written multiple episodes of The Wire, among other television shows. The Night Gardener is one of his standalone novels, but he also has written a few series, including the DC Quartet series, the Derek Strange and Terry Quinn series, and most recently, the Spero Lucas series. He also edited the anthology DC Noir.