RARA-AVIS: Pelecanos, The Night Gardener

Date: 11 Aug 2006

Greetings from a longtime lurker providing a rare report:

Tuesday night I A-trained to a Brooklyn Heights bar, Magnetic Field, for the George Pelecanos official publication date reading of The Night Gardener. About fifty people pretty much filled the place, which had a long wood bar, mildly hipster d飯r, a dozen beers on draft, a little stage, and a small cushioned seating area. Most of the crowd was there for Pelecanos, some for the "backup band," Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3. This was not your usual reading. First Pelecanos, solo, read Lorenzo's Narcotics Anonymous speech from Drama City, his previous book. Then he read a combination of the opening and closing sections of Night Gardener while Wynn's group jammed an edgy blues. I had a good time listening to Pelecanos and Wynn, keeping an eye on the Mets game, and enjoying happy hour priced Yuengling pints. All literary events should be so multisensory. Then Wynn played a twisted love song, "Cindy, It was Always You," with lyrics by Pelecanos, and followed up with songs both recent and from his Dream Syndicate days, including a ripping
"Days of Wine and Roses." Afterward, I said hi to George and got my books signed.

So how's the book? I read Night Gardener a couple weeks ago as an ARC, and it's damn good. There's much that's standard Pelecanos: D.C. urban anthropology, music and pop culture references (a Clapton album title is an actual plot point), the bad in good people and the good in bad people, a big Western-style shootout. There's also some new wrinkles, particularly a strong domestic element and an uncommon ending. (No spoilers, but in a month or so, I'll ask the list if anyone knows other stories that use this type of ending.) If you're a Pelecanos fan, this book is a must read. If you're a Pelecanos detractor (and I know there's some on the list), you might want to give this one a shot.

Reading Chris M's recent Pelecanos post made me think about my own history with his books. In the early 90s I was living in DC and read a glowing review of a crime novel with a local setting. The Stefanos books clicked with me. I had no connection with drugs, guns, and crime (hell, I'm a librarian), but I was a young guy with my eyes open about non-federal-government DC, and Pelecanos wrote about a world I lived in. I've been a fan (ok, collector/stalker) ever since, even after I left DC for NYC in 1997. His last two books, Drama City and Night Gardener, are different from his three series (Stefanos, Karras/Clay, Quinn/Strange). These moral novels of social realism set in the present day still speak to me, even if
"my DC" is ten years gone. It sounds like a backhanded compliment to say that after 14 books, he's really getting better, but it's true.
(And that's generally preferable to the later works of those authors who stop progressing.)

Apologies for length,

Bob V in Washington Heights

PS: A Wynn/Pelecanos CD is available at www.stevewynn.net

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