The Night Gardenerby George Pelecanos
The haunting story of three cops—one good, one bad, one broken—and the murder that reunited them in a showdown decades in the making.
The Washington Post
The New York Times Sunday Book Review
The New York Times
New York Times
"Like Drama City it is heart-in-your-throat gripping from beginning to end, The Night Gardener is another of Mr. Pelecanos's beautifully delineated moral tales, filled with gut-wrenching turns of fate and razor-sharp, boisterously vivid characters."Janet Maslin, New York Times"
The Night Gardener can be read as a police procedural hipper but just as good as those of the late, great Ed McBain. But it is also a wise, textured examination of life in urban America, as sophisticated as the best work of Richard Price....[Pelecanos's] last book, Drama City, is a masterpiece of American crime fiction; The Night Gardener is even better."Associated Press"
Mr. Pelecanos...is part of a fraternity of writers, including Dennis Lehane and Richard Price, who push the boundaries of crime writing into literary territory, exploring character more deeply than many crime novelists dare, introducing challenging social themes and bucking expectations that everything will come out all right in the end."Motoko Rich, New York Times"
Perhaps the greatest living American crime writer."Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly
- Little, Brown and Company
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By George Pelecanos
LITTLE, BROWNCopyright © 2006 George P. Pelecanos
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE CRIME SCENE was in the low 30s around E, on the edge of Fort Dupont Park, in a neighborhood known as Greenway, in the 6th District section of Southeast D.C. A girl of fourteen lay in the grass on the side of a community vegetable garden that was blind to the residents whose yards backed up to the nearby woods. There were colorful beads in her braided hair. She appeared to have died from a single gunshot wound to the head. A middle-aged homicide police was down on one knee beside her, staring at her as if he were waiting for her to awake. His name was T. C. Cook. He was a sergeant with twenty-four years on the force, and he was thinking.
His thoughts were not optimistic. There was no visible blood on or around the girl, with the exception of the entrance and exit wounds, now congealed. No blood at all on her shirt, jeans, or sneakers, all of which looked to be brand-new. Cook surmised that she had been undressed and re-dressed after her murder, and her body had been moved and dumped here. He had a sick feeling in his gut and also, he realized with some degree of guilt, a quickening in his pulse that suggested, if not excitement, then engagement. An ID on the body would confirm it, but Cook suspected that this one was like the others. She was one of them.
The Mobile CrimeLab had arrived. The techs were going through the motions, but there was a kind of listlessness in their movements and a general air of defeat. The transportation of a body away from the murder site meant that there would be few forensic clues. Also, it had rained. When this happened, it was said by some techs that the killer was laughing.
On the edge of the crime scene were a meat wagon and several patrol cars and uniformed officers who had responded to the call for assistance. There were a couple dozen spectators as well. Yellow tape had been strung, and the uniforms were now charged with keeping the spectators and the media back and away from the homicide cops and lab techs doing their jobs. Superintendent of Detectives Michael Messina and Homicide Captain Arnold Bellows had ducked the tape and were talking to each other, leaving Sergeant Cook alone. The public-relations officer, a moley Italian American who appeared frequently on TV, fed the usual to a reporter from Channel 4, a man with suspicious hair whose gimmick was a clipped delivery and dramatic pauses between sentences.
Two of the uniformed officers stood by their cruiser. Their names were Gus Ramone and Dan Holiday. Ramone was of medium height and build. Holiday was taller and blade thin. Both were college dropouts, single, in their early twenties, and white. Both were in their second year on the force, past their rookie status but not seasoned. They had already acquired a distrust of officers above the rank of sergeant but were not yet cynical about the job.
"Look at 'em," said Holiday, nodding his sharp chin in the direction of Superintendent Messina and Captain Bellows. "They're not even talking to T.C."
"They're just letting him do his thing," said Ramone. "The white shirts are afraid of him, is what it is."
T. C. Cook was an average-sized black man in a tan raincoat with a zip-in lining, worn over a houndstooth sport jacket. His dress Stetson, light brown with a chocolate band holding a small multicolored feather, was cocked just so, covering a bald head sided by clown patches of black hair flecked with gray. He had a bulbous nose and a thick brown mustache. His mouth rarely turned up in a smile, but his eyes sometimes shone brightly with amusement.
"The Mission Man," said Holiday. "The brass don't like him, but they sure don't fuck with him. Guy's got a ninety percent closure rate; he can do what he wants."
That's Holiday all over, thought Ramone. Get results, and all will be forgiven. Produce, and do whatever the fuck you want. Ramone had his own rules: follow the playbook, stay safe, put in your twenty-five and move on. He was not enamored of Cook or any of the other mavericks, cowboys, and assorted living legends on the force. Romanticizing the work could not elevate it to something it was not. This was a job, not a calling. Holiday, on the other hand, was living a dream, had lead in his pencil, and was jacked up big on the Twenty-third Psalm.
Holiday had started on foot patrol in the H Street corridor of Northeast, a white man solo in a black section of town. He had cut it fine and already had a rep. Holiday remembered the names of folks he had met only one time, complimented the young women and the grandmothers alike, could talk Interhigh sports, the Redskins, and the Bullets with guys sitting on their front porches and those hanging outside the liquor stores, could even shoot the shit with the young ones he knew were headed for the hard side. Citizens, criminal and straight, sensed that Holiday was a joker and a fuckup, and still they liked him. His enthusiasm and natural fit for the job would probably get him further in the MPD than Ramone would go. That is, if that little man with the pitchfork, sitting on Holiday's shoulder, didn't ruin him first.
Ramone and Holiday had gone through the academy together, but they weren't friends. They weren't even partners. They were sharing a car because there had been a shortage of cruisers in the lot behind the 6D station. Six hours into a four-to-midnight, and Ramone was already tired of Holiday's voice. Some cops liked the company, and the backup, even if it was less than stellar. Ramone preferred to ride alone.
"I tell you about this girl I been seein?" said Holiday. "Yeah," said Ramone. Not yeah with a question mark on the end of it, but yeah with a period, as in, end of discussion. "She's a Redskinette," said Holiday. "One of those cheerleaders they got at RFK."
"I know what they are." "I tell you about her?" "I think you did." "You oughtta see her ass, Giuseppe."
Ramone's mother, when she was angry or sentimental, was the only one who ever called him by his given name. That is, until Holiday had seen Ramone's driver's license. Holiday also occasionally called him "the Ramone," after having had a look at Ramone's record collection on the single occasion Ramone had let him into his apartment. That had been a mistake.
"Nice ones, too," said Holiday, doing the arthritic thing with his hands. "She got those big pink, whaddaya call 'em, aureoles."
Holiday turned, his face catching the strobe of the cruiser light bars still activated at the scene. He was smiling his large row of straight white teeth, his ice blue eyes catching the flash. The ID bar on his chest read "D. Holiday," so naturally and instantly he had caught the nickname "Doc" within the department. Coincidentally, he was as angular and bone skinny as the tubercular gunman. Some of the older cops claimed he looked like a young Dan Duryea.
"You told me," said Ramone for the third time. "Okay. But listen to this. Last week, I'm out with her in a bar. The Constable, down on Eighth ..."
"I know the place." Ramone had gone to the Constable many times, pre-cop, in that year when he thought of himself as In Between. You could score coke from the bartender there, watch the band, Tiny Desk Unit or the Insect Surfers or whoever, in that back room, or sit under the stars on the patio they had out back, drink beers and catch cigarettes behind the shake, and talk to the girls, back when they were all wearing the heavy mascara and the fishnets. This was after his fourth, and last, semester at Maryland, when he'd taken that criminology class and thought, I don't need any more of this desk-and-blackboard bullshit; I can do this thing right now. But then just wandering for a while before he signed up, hitting the bars, smoking weed, and doing a little blow, chasing those girls with the fishnets. It had felt to him then like he was stumbling. Tonight, wearing the blue, the badge and gun, standing next to a guy he would have ridiculed a few years back, now his contemporary, it felt like he had been free.
"... and she drops a bomb on me. Tells me she likes me and all that bulljive, but she's dating one of the Redskins, too." "Joe Jacoby?" said Ramone, side-glancing Holiday. "Nah, not that beast."
"So who?" "A receiver. And not Donnie Warren, if you catch my drift."
"You're saying she's dating a black receiver." "One of 'em," said Holiday. "And you know they like white girls."
"Who doesn't," said Ramone.
Over the crackle of the radios coming from the cars they heard Cook telling one of the men in his squad to keep the Channel 4 reporter, who was attempting to move under the tape, away from the deceased. "Punk motherfucker," said Cook, saying it loud, making sure the reporter could hear. "He's the one got that witness killed down in Congress Park. Goes on the air and talks about how a young lady's about to give testimony ..."
"I had a problem with what she told me, I gotta be honest," said Holiday, watching Cook but going ahead with his story.
"'Cause he's black." "I can't lie. It was hard for me to forget him and her after that. When I was in the rack with her, is what I'm talkin about." "You felt, what, inadequate or somethin?"
"Come on. Pro football player, a brother ..." Holiday held his palm out a foot from his groin. "Guy's gotta be like this." "It's an NFL requirement."
"Huh?" "They check their teeth, too."
"I'm sayin, I'm just an average guy. Down there, I mean. Don't get me wrong; it's Kielbasa Street when the blood gets to it, but when it's just layin there-"
"What's your point?" "Knowin this girl was hanging off the end of this guy's dick, it just ruined her for me, I guess." "So you what, let her go?"
"Not with that ass of hers, I wasn't gonna let her go. No, sir." A woman had wandered under the tape while they were talking, and as she approached the body of the girl and got a look at it, she vomited voluminously into the grass. Sergeant Cook removed his hat, ran a finger along the brim, and breathed deeply. He replaced the Stetson on his head, adjusted it, and allowed his eyes to search the perimeter of the scene. He turned to the man beside him, a white detective named Chip Rogers, and pointed to Ramone and Holiday.
"Tell those white boys to do their jobs," said Cook.
"People regurgitatin, fucking up my crime scene ... If they can't keep these folks back, find some men who will. I'm not playin."
Ramone and Holiday immediately went to the yellow tape, turned their backs to it, and affected a pose of authority. Holiday spread his feet and looped his fingers through his utility belt, unfazed by Cook's words. Ramone's jaw tightened as he felt a twinge of anger at being called a white boy by the homicide cop. He had heard it occasionally growing up outside D.C. and many times while playing baseball and basketball in the city proper. He didn't like it. He knew it was meant to cut him and he was expected to take it, and that made it burn even more.
"How about you?" said Holiday. "How 'bout me what?" said Ramone. "You been gettin any hay for your donkey?"
Ramone did not answer. He had his eye on one woman in particular, a cop, God help him. But he had learned not to let Holiday into his personal world.
"C'mon, brother," said Holiday. "I showed you mine, now you show me yours. You got someone in your gun sights?" "Your baby sister," said Ramone.
Holiday's mouth fell open and his eyes flared. "My sister died of leukemia when she was eleven years old, you piece a shit."
Ramone looked away. For a while there was only the squawk and hiss of the police radios and the low conversations of the spectators in the crowd. Then Holiday cackled and slapped Ramone on the back.
"I'm kiddin you, Giuseppe. Oh, Christ, but I had your ass." The description of the victim had been matched to a list of missing teenagers in the area. A half hour later, a man was brought to the scene to identify her. As he looked at the body, a father's anguished howl filled the night.
The victim's name was Eve Drake. In the past year, two other black teenagers, both living in the poorer sections of town, had been murdered and dumped in similar fashion in community gardens, both discovered shortly after sunrise. Shot in the head, both had traces of semen in their rectums. Their names were Otto Williams and Ava Simmons. Like Otto and Ava, Drake's first name, Eve, was spelled the same way backward as it was forward. The press had made the connection and dubbed the events the Palindrome Murders. Within the department, some police had begun to refer to the perpetrator as the Night Gardener.
ACROSS TOWN, AT THE same time the father cried out over his daughter's body, young Washingtonians were in their homes, tuning in to Miami Vice, doing lines of coke as they watched the exploits of two hip undercover cops and their quest to take down the kingpins of the drug trade. Others read bestselling novels by Tom Clancy, John Jakes, Stephen King, and Peter Straub, or sat in bars and talked about the fading play-off prospects of the Jay Schroeder-led Washington Redskins. Others watched rented VCR tapes of Beverly Hills Cop and Code of Silence, the top picks that week at Erol's Video Club, or barely sweated to Jane Fonda's Workout, or went out and caught the new Michael J. Fox at the Circle Avalon or Caligula at the Georgetown. Mr. Mister and Midge Ure were in town, playing the clubs.
As these movers of the Reagan generation entertained themselves west of Rock Creek Park and in the suburbs, detectives and techs worked at a crime scene at 33rd and E, in the neighborhood of Greenway, in Southeast D.C. They could not know that this would be the last victim of the Palindrome Killer. For now, there was only a dead teenager, one of three unsolved, and someone out there, somewhere, doing the murders.
On a cool rainy night in December 1985, two young uniformed police and a middle-aged homicide detective were on the scene.
Excerpted from Night Gardener by George Pelecanos Copyright © 2006 by George P. Pelecanos. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
George Pelecanos is the author of several highly praised and bestselling novels, including The Cut, What It Was, The Way Home, The Turnaround, and The Night Gardener. He is also an independent-film producer, an essayist, and the recipient of numerous international writing awards. He was a producer and Emmy-nominated writer for The Wire and currently writes for the acclaimed HBO series Treme. He lives in Maryland.
- Silver Spring, Maryland
- Date of Birth:
- February 18, 1957
- Place of Birth:
- Washington, D.C.
- B.A., University of Maryland at College Park, 1980
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Author George Pelacanos is the master of hard-boiled crime drama. His books continually embody the spirit and grit of their Washington, DC setting. His characters - police, villians and victims alike - are believeable and real and vividly come to life as if they are literally standing before the reader. Additionally, nobody captures the essence of urban street prose better than Pelacanos, as evidenced by this simple but telling passage: 'Shaka bounced the Spalding indoor/outdoor over to Diego, who took a medium-range jumper that hit the back of the iron and did not drop.' Reading this passage, I felt as if I was on the court watching these two teenagers ball. Pelacanos fans should know that this book is a stand alone novel and not a Derek Strange caper. That said, the author does allow his endurring character to make a small 'appearance' in the story. Lastly, I am not one to usually comment on the reviews of others, however, I must call out the scribe of the earlier review who commented on this novels gratuitous vulgar language...don't know which book that person was reading because 'The Night Gardner' contains very few vulgarities. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it left me eagerly awaiting a follow up. Again, George Pelacanos proves his has mastered this genre.
When I read B&N's review of this book, I ordered it immediately. When I read the book, I was extremely disappointed. The dialogue is excellent, but the plot is just okay. The end was unsatisfying, and very easy to figure out. If you're not a big whodunit reader, you'll love it. I have been reading detective novels all my life, so I expected more.
In reading "The Night Gardener" I thought it would be a murder mystery or thriller, but instead it is about the human condition. To begin, a murdered child is found in a garden twenty years ago and three cops are there. Jump to now, and a similar murder has taken place, which opens wounds for the three. Their lives are changed, yet they are still haunted. We come to learn about who these men are, what made them and how they get through their own lives. George Pelecanos has written an intense story of what is like to live and survive in and on the streets of Washington D.C.
Synopsis: The book opens with glimpse at a crime scene in a community garden in Washington D.C. in 1985 where Pelecanos introduces three key detectives. T.C. Cook, a sergeant with 24 years on the force, known as "The Mission Man" with a 90% closure rate. Dan Holiday, known as Doc, is tall, thin, and is results oriented but with little respect for the rules. Gus Ramone, like Doc Holiday is on his second year at Metro DC police force, but he prefers to follow the playbook, stay safe, put in his time and move on. Holiday and Ramone are handling crowd control. T.C. Cook is examining the crime scene surrounding Eve Drake, a young black teenager and the third and latest victim of the "Night Gardener". There is considerable pressure to solve and catch the culprit of the "Palindrome Murders". Pelecanos then takes the readers to Washington D.C. in 2005. Doc Holiday has been eased out of the police force and instead owns and manages a limo company while Ramone has remained on the force and risen up. As a senior detective, Ramone plays on his strengths to close cases and liberally relies on the skills of those around him. His life centers on his wife and their young daughter and their fourteen year old son who is undergoing some adjustment problems in his new Maryland school. With Holiday's accidental discovery of another teenage corpse in a community garden in the Southeast D.C. area twenty years later, Holiday and Ramone's paths intersect. Ramone's teenage son had been friends with Asa Johnson, the victim, and Ramone takes an interest in the case. The Palindrome Murders had suddenly ceased in 1985 but the Night Gardener had never been caught. Holiday suspects that the Night Gardener may have become active again and that Asa was his latest victim. Though he'd left the police force years ago, Holiday finds himself thinking about Asa Johnson and the Palindrome Murders and doesn't trust that Ramone and the detectives will solve the case. Holiday reaches out to retired T.C. Cook to see if together they can help the police locate the killer. Review: George Pelecanos has built a strong reputation for authentic dialogue and interesting characters through fifteen Washington D.C. based detective novels and his Emmy-nominated show The Wire. The Night Gardener is my first experience with his work and I can see how he's developed a strong and loyal fan base. The Night Gardener is carefully crafted and comes together smoothly. While the three main detectives and Asa Johnson's murder is the primary storyline, there are several other narratives and crimes that occur simultaneously. Even the subordinate plot lines and characters are well developed, which heightens the level of suspense. I couldn't tell until the ending how everything would fit together. But when I reached the end, then the details that were floating around in the periphery somehow made sense and I realized how The Night Gardener was so carefully crafted. I would recommend this book to people fond of forensic and police thrillers, and detective novels. I think it would have special appeal to those familiar with the Washington D.C. area.
BEWARE! George Pelecanos is inviting you to enter the streets of Washington D.C. Streets teaming with crime and conspiracy, bigotry and hate, get rich schemes and slow sure death. Follow Gus Rameno¿s investigation of a teen¿s death and its possible connection to a series of twenty-six year old murders, and as he unravels that mystery, we watch and listen as the streets throb like a living entity breathing, fighting, and dying. Every page of this book is thick with the gritty language and acts of those struggling to survive and come to the other side of life richer, wiser, and somewhere else. A thought provoking story, rich in the problems that face us today. Reviewed by Wanda C. Keesey, author of Lost In The Mist (release date May 2008)
Set in DC, this is a murder mystery that felt as if I was listening to a favorite CD. Pelecanos writes with a beat. This is one of my favorite writers and this is his best a perfect union of suspense, character, and unstoppable fate.
George Pelecanos writes novels that have real characters who live hard lives but persevere. See the HBO series THE WIRE for which he often writes.
Pelecanos has always been a favorite writer of mine, but since I have trouble with failing eyesight, I have had to listen to his books -- he reads his own stuff and that just doesn't do it -- no infliction in his voice, just a very monotoned voice. The listener becomes so caught up in this one toned voice, you forget what it is being read. That said, the story is very good. If you are into cop stories there isn't anybody like Pelecanos!
I've been reading crime novels for nearly thirty years and I've written three of them, but after reading 'The Night Gardener,' I'll never have to read another crime novel. Pelecanos has blasted apart the entire genre with this masterpiece, the first crime novel I've ever read that actually approaches true literature. You just can't have a supernatural scene in a 'realistic' crime novel (Cook goes to Heaven), yet Pelecanos pulls it off so well, you don't even notice he's violated rule #1 of the genre. He's blasted apart the whole structure of the genre, there's true character development (Holladay), and he's posed a great literary theme: Do things in this world (like the rain) mean something, or stand for something, or are things just what they seem to be on the surface? Wisely, Pelecanos doesn't answer the question, but what is brilliant is his courage and skill in asking such a profound question. This novel beats anything EVER written by the likes of Cornwell, Sandford, Parker, Patterson, Thomas Perry, even my other fave, Dennis Lehane. Why read another crime novel? George P. has said all the genre is capable of saying. I can't understand those who give this less than five stars, but I encourage them to read it again and expand the way they think about the crime novel. Meanwhile, I'm going back to reading 'literary' literature.
Voice performers are terrific - I have a list of favorites a mile long and eagerly await new releases from each of them. However, an author reading his own words can be a very special listening experience. For this listener he or she brings an intimacy, an understanding that even the best of trained actors cannot capture. Such is the case with George Pelecanos's narration of The Night Gardener. As a producer and writer for TV's acclaimed The Wire, Pelecanos well knows how to set a scene and craft intense dialogue. He does just that in spades in this story of three men who are once again drawn together in order to find a killer. While all murders are tragic, the snuffing out of a young life is particularly heart wrenching. A teenage boy, Asa, is found slain in a community garden. He had been a friend of homicide detective Gus Ramone's son, Diego. Not only does Gus want the murderer caught because he's a good cop but also because it reminds him of a 20 year old unsolved case - young boys found dead in parks. The killer who came to be known as The Night Gardener' was never found. At that time Gus had been just a rookie and worked with his partner, Dan Holiday. The intervening years haven't been kind to Dan as he left the force due to a morals charge and is now making ends meet by working as a driver and bodyguard. Dan and Gus had joined with one of the best detectives to be found - T. C. Cook in a hunt for The Night Gardener. Nonetheless, the three of them were unable to track the perpetrator of such heinous crimes. Now, with another slaying so similar to the two decade old killings each man is doggedly determined that the murderer won't get away again. Just as characters on The Wire leap at you from a screen, this trio seems to spring from the pages of Pelecanos's dynamite thriller. - Gail Cooke
Good cop,bad cop deep,dark secrets standard obsessed retired cop is secretly vindicated in the end but only the reader knows...the novel holds no surprises. The language does not flow naturally the author loves short,simple sentences as if writing for simple minded readers. D.C.,though mentioned often,is never fleshed out.Comments about the current administration and its supposed views are made to appear as the cause for a young teen's suicide that the police could not distinguish from murder.DC's finest are portrayed as bigoted,alcoholic and on the take. Upper class schools are portrayed as racist.The cliches are almost insulting to the intelligence of the reader. The only sense of tension comes from the need to finally finish the book. The title is the most intriguing part of the book. One star for effort.
Some authors have the rare gift of being able to put themselves into a situation and writing as if they'd 'been there, done that'. Not George Pelicanos -- at least not in 'The Night Gardener'. His dialog is stilted and his gratuitous overuse of foul language quickly becomes repugnant. Beyond that, his sentence structure is exceedingly basic and boring. Grammatical, yes, but no more. A good recent book to read instead of this one? -- James Burke's 'Pegasus Descending'.
Washington DC Police Department Violent Crime Detective Gus Ramone has been a good cop for over two decades, but the latest case assigned to him hits home personally on two fronts. First the victim Asa Johnson is a friend of Gus¿ teenage son second the crime scene data and related information reminds him of a serial killer never caught when Gus was in his second year on the force.-------- Adding to his feel of déjà vu is who found the corpse. Back in 1985, Gus was watching renowned Detective T.C. Cook with an over 90 per cent resolution rate work the now cold case with another second year cop Dan Holiday watching like Gus in awe. Dan, who left WPD under a cloud of alleged misconduct, found the current corpse. He and Cook see this latest homicide as a chance for redemption and inveigle their way into Gus' investigation while the lead detective feels the passion flow that he has lacked in years.-------- The three cops make George Pelecanos¿ latest tale a must read police procedural as the author takes the theme of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly into 2005 DC. The action-packed story line is driven by the differing self actualization needs of the threesome, which is deftly interwoven into the investigative plot. THE NIGHT GARDENER will be on everyone¿s short list for sub-genre book of the year as the True Grit sleuths seek solace with stopping a serial killer returned from their failed past.----- Harriet Klausner
I read this one on the reccomendation of several people, and to be honest, if I could post say, 3 1/2 stars? That would be my review, because I would reccomend it. Just not to everyone. The plot reminded me sharply of Lehane's 'Mystic River,' in that you can tell pretty much nobody is going to come out on top. That's fine. That's the way real life operates a good deal of the time. Added to that though, there are parallel plotlines that never seem to go anywhere. A lot of people have stated that they didn't find the ending satisfactory, and I would ask them what they mean. Barring an lack of substance in the end, it was undoubtedly the author's intention to leave a frayed rope. Reading that last little bit might make your teeth grind together and your mouth secrete some bitter flavor, not unlike gall. Here's to your enjoyment, or your disappointment, but to fans of 'Mystic River,' you might want to give this one a try.
A cheap book with little substance and too many undelivered promises. Lacking is the mystery. Lacking here is the dark, magical side to murder mysteries. Easy to tell JP bookseller is James Patterson