Mysterious Book Report The Ways of the DeadThe Ways of the Dead by Neely Tucker

Viking Penguin, $27.95, 272 pages, ISBN 978-0-670-01658-7

It’s a fact that cities around the world have two faces. The first face is the Chamber of Commerce one; that’s where we see beautiful monuments and buildings, parks and well maintained streets with trees and greenery, stately homes and scenic vistas which tempt us to visit . . . or perhaps even move there. Then there is the other face: the Mr. Hyde face, the one with warts, scars and pimples. The dark seamy side of town where there’s graffiti on the walls, and crime in the streets. It’s where poverty, drugs and mayhem are found . . . and it’s part of every city in the world . . . including our nation’s capitol, Washington D.C.

The Ways of the Dead, by Neely Tucker is a debut by an author with some serious chops: he’s been a journalist for twenty-five years, fourteen of which have been with the Washington Post. His novel takes place, of course, in the District of Columbia. It begins when Sarah Reese, the white teenage daughter of a federal judge whose name is being mentioned as the next in line for the U.S. Supreme Court—walks across the street from her ballet class to buy a soda at a ghetto convenience store. Inside the store, she’s accosted by three black teenage boys, flees out the back door and is murdered. Her body is found in a dumpster in the alley. The three boys are arrested. One of them confesses and agrees to testify against his companions, but Sully Carter is suspicious. He’s a reporter who thinks the Reese murder may be related to a string of killings of prostitutes in the same area, but he’s having trouble proving it. Sully, short for Sullivan, has some serious issues of his own and he’s not dealing with them. Cynical and tough, he’s been recalled from the Bosnian war with a gunshot wound to the face, a drinking problem and a total disrespect for any and all forms of authority. He rockets around the city on a 916 Ducati race bike, files his stories while half-blitzed at ten o’clock in the morning and teams up with one of the most notorious crime lords in the city to prove his case. The novel moves swiftly, while the murders keep coming, and just as Sully is about to prove corruption in high places . . . he may die trying. There’s plenty of suspense, edge-of-disaster danger and a stunning, surprise conclusion that will leave the reader gasping for breath and looking for the next great yarn from Neely Tucker! I know I will be…


John Dwaine McKenna