Re: RARA-AVIS: Pelecanos, The Night Gardener

From: Brian Thornton (
Date: 11 Aug 2006

Bob V. wrote about Pelecanos' new book:

>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.

This begs the question, Bob: if there is "much that's standard Pelecanos" here, why should a "Pelecanos detractor" (a club of which I am definitely a member) "want to give this one a shot"?

I think it's a valid question. For my money, you can't rave about someone about whom you are a self-described non-objective fan, and then tell people who don't like his work, "Hey, there's a lot of the stuff you didn't like in the first place, but you really ought to try this book, because you might like it. Even though I loved all of his other books, and I unabashedly think this is awesome," if you'd like to be taken seriously.

So let me ask: what did Pelecanos do well in this book that he didn't do well (in your opinion) in others? This requires a bit more objectivity on your part, and a concession that Pelecanos has displayed some glaring weaknesses as a writer.

Are his characters less cardboard cutouts? Does he stop referring to the hero's jacket as "his leather"? (I always looked for someone on a Harley when I read that) Are his plot points less glaringly obvious (a la "Right As Rain" wherein short hick drug mule with Little Man Complex, who wears high-heeled cowboy boots, and who has built his own bar, complete with the rail running along the bottom of said bar, in which he will get his high-heeled boot caught during the climatic gun battle with Quinn at the end of the book. Oh! The heavy-handed, broadly telegraphed irony! I *SO* didn't see *THAT* coming!)?

Seriously, if we who are "Pelecanos detractors" are to be asked to reconsider his work, mightn't you, an unabashed Pelecanos "stalker" address some of the things we found weak in his earlier writing? It might call for you to be more objective about the object of your literary man-crush, but then again, it's the only way I would be convinced to spend another nickel on anything by George P. ("The Wire" excepted. I think his work on that series is exemplary. It's everything that his writing is not. I'd be thrilled to watch anything scripted by George P. Pelecanos. Can't explain the dichotomy, but there you have it).

Brian Thornton

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