The Ways of the Dead by Neely Tucker (Viking, June 12th, 2014)-15 year old Sarah Reese is dead in D.C., found in a dumpster with her throat slashed, and three young men are the suspects. A white girl murdered with three black suspects will get attention enough, but she also happens to be the daughter of a prominent D.C. judge, David Reese, and speculation is all over the place. Was it random, a crime of opportunity, or was it a message for David Reese? These are all questions that Sully Carter, former war reporter, now news reporter, is determined to answer.
So, Sully asks questions, a lot of them, and in the process starts to remember other girls that have gone missing or were killed in the same area. He begins to connect the dots, literally, in fact, using a pinboard at the newsroom to track deaths in the area, and too many girls are dead, or have gone missing, in such a small area, for it to be a coincidence. But, of course, what could a prominent judge’s daughter have to do with a prostitute, or a dancer from the wrong side of the tracks. More than you might think, actually. A trail of corruption and scandal soon emerges, and Sully is determined to see justice done for all of these girls, not just for Sarah Reese. If he can do that with his reputation, and job, intact, even better.
Neely Tucker is a former war correspondent and journalist, and he puts his vast knowledge (seriously, read his bio-it’s fascinating) of the profession to great use in this superb debut. Sully is injured not only physically (he carries a prominent limp and visible scars), but also in his heart, still mourning the death of Nadia, a woman he’d fallen in love with overseas. He’s been carrying on a relationship with a woman for about a year, and she cares about Sully, but even she doesn’t like competing with a ghost. Sully’s melancholy is palpable, and he’s still carrying the aftershocks of his overseas work. He tends to drown his dark memories in a bottle, but he’s very good at what he does, and he’s shocked at the number of disappearances and killings of women that have gone ignored until the daughter of a prominent man (who he has a bit of dark history with), is found dead.
This Clinton era thriller packs plenty of punch: the pace is brisk, the dialogue is very smart, and the author never insults his reader’s intelligence in the process of unfolding the labyrinthine plot. It’s obvious that he knows what readers look for in good suspense, and he’s certainly got a handle on the breakneck speed at which the news business can make or break a person. I’ve always been fascinated with the lives and work of investigative journalists, and this book definitely satisfies that curiosity, to very entertaining effect. Pick up this book for the murder mystery, and stay for the excellent portrayal of a very specific time and place with an emphasis on the racial and class divide, a broken, rough-edged hero that’s well worth rooting for, and a helluva ending. I’m definitely looking forward to more from this author-his next book can’t come soon enough!