When the daughter of a prominent Washington, DC, federal judge—a candidate for the Supreme Court—is found murdered, it sets off the thick racial tensions that are everpresent in the city in the late 1990s. But reporter Sully Carter believes that there was more going on here than meets the eye, and that this murder is related to the murders of other young women in the area. He becomes determined to prove it, but he most overcome his own bad reputation and the fact that Sully is his own worst enemy.
A fascinating look at late 1990s DC, this novel examines racial tensions while also delivering a memorable main character and a fascinating story.
The Ways of the Dead is the first novel in an intriguing crime series, set in a city that is slowly coming back from its worst period. Washington, DC, was not a pretty place in the late 1990s, which is when this story is set. In fact, the murders that Tucker based this novel on actually happened in the city; in a place with such a high crime rate, it was easy to overlook the disappearances of young women. Tucker really writes the atmosphere of the city well in this novel; at the center are the racial tensions in the book. The murder of a young white girl, the main suspects three young black males: just that scenario was enough to cause chaos in the divided city. Indeed, the racial tensions that Tucker depicts so well linger into today’s Washington, DC. As a result, though this book is set over a decade in the past, it is still timely and informative, in terms of the way the local politics of Washington, DC, works.
Sully is an interesting character in The Ways of the Dead. He’s an alcoholic, still haunted by his experiences reporting in Bosnia during the war. He drowns his sorrows in his drinks, and he doesn’t have the best reputation around the office. It’s interesting, because Sully is such a smart and capable reporter. He ends up being his own worst enemy, unable to control his temper or play politics when he needs to. Honestly, he shouldn’t be easy to like because he’s so rough around the edges, but the reader really gets to see into him, see what haunts him, and they can’t help but connect with him emotionally.
As I mentioned, the mystery in The Ways of the Dead is actually based on a real string of murders that happened in Washington, DC, which definitely heightens the experience. It’s gripping and twisty; I honestly had no idea what to expect beyond every page. It’s disturbing, to be sure, a novel about the darker corners of our urban spaces. Tucker did an incredible job with this book, from atmosphere to characterization, and I look forward to seeing where he sends Sully next.