Re: RARA-AVIS: Pelecanos, The Night Gardener

From: bobav1 ( rav7@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Date: 11 Aug 2006

Hi Brian:

Yeah, you in particular I didn't think I'd convert. But hey, at least you reminded me why I usually just lurk!

As for your repeatedly-asked question, "Why should a detractor try this one?", I thought I suggested some answers. In the paragraph of mine you quoted, I said there were some new wrinkles. The "strong domestic element" adds more depth to the characters you consider
"cardboard cutouts." The "uncommon ending" points to a plot more complicated than those you consider "glaringly obvious." I can say with certainty that the reader won't guess the solution(s) (yes, an actual mystery with clues and everything) to the children's deaths. I also went on to say that I thought the last two books were different from the others, and better. Further elaboration: The Night Gardener main characters are police and ex-police, and this book might even partly qualify as a police procedural. The previous book, Drama City, qualifies as a "dog police" procedural (surely an uncommon genre), and it's also a parole officer procedural. Having characters within and around the legal system provides more (infra)structure than the earlier private eye lone wolf tough guy series. This may be due to Pelecanos's work on The Wire (which I haven't seen - my man-crush isn't strong enough to pay for cable), which I suspect also helped with the Night Gardener's larger cast of characters and shifting storylines. (No spoiler, but there are 5 separate but interrelated murder stories.) Also, while Night Gardener has a brief beginning and end in 1985, I thought that the present day setting was a strength. (I also liked his novels set in the 1950s, 1968, 1976, and 1986, but if you're not into DC history, you won't get as much out of them.)

All that said, I think that you, Brian "Test of Time" Thornton, objective critic, shouldn't read it.

All best, and maybe more later,

Bob V., non-objective critic

--- In, "Brian Thornton" <tieresias@...> wrote:
> 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
> [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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