You can take Pelecanos out of his two DC series starring Nick Stefanos (Shame the Devil, 2000, etc.) and Derek Strange (Hard Revolution, 2004, etc.), but you can’t take the impulse to turn District crime into a serial epic out of Pelecanos.
Twenty years ago, Officers Gus Ramone and Dan Holiday were brought together by the murder of Eve Drake, 14, whose palindromic first name marked her as the third victim of a sex killer dubbed The Night Gardener, who’s already snuffed out Otto Williams and Ava Simmons. Despite the best efforts of Sgt. T.C. Cook, the formidable lead detective, the case was never closed. The passing years turned Ramone from a time-server to a solid cop who forced Holiday off the Metro Police during an Internal Affairs investigation. Now the shooting of Asa Johnson, a friend of Ramone’s son Diego, galvanizes both men once more. Ramone wonders if The Night Gardener has returned—and why he might have been inactive for all those years. Holiday, though he’s been off the job for years, calls on long-retired Cook, who tells him of a suspect he could never quite bring to book, a suspect who’s recently been released from prison after serving 19-plus years. But the real attraction here, as usual with Pelecanos (Drama City, 2005, etc.), is the tangle of untamed subplots: the ex-dealer who’s sworn to keep his cousin on the straight and narrow, the man who stabs his estranged wife, the dead housepainter who obviously had a more lucrative sideline, the daily struggles of Diego Ramone to earn respect in the suburban high school his parents have sneaked him into. The setup screams Mystic River, but Pelecanos’s olympian yet furiously impassioned take on urban violence remains his own.
The best American comparison, in fact, is James Lee Burke, who also keeps writing the same churning book over and over and clearly hates to come to the last page just as much as Pelecanos.