Book Review: The Ways of the Dead

The Ways of the Dead
By: Neely Tucker
Published By: Viking Adult
Publication Date: June 12, 2014
Page Count: 288
Source: ARC Provided By Publisher
Audience/Genre: Adult Mystery

Lately I've been slogging through a handful of books because I had to and not because I wanted to, but it seems that a compelling and well-written mystery/crime novel was exactly what I needed to get me out of that slump, because I finished The Ways of the Dead in less than 24 hours. Do you have any idea how long it's been since I finished a book in a single day? Trust me when I tell you it's been a LONG time. And trust me when I tell you that while Neely Tucker's novel may contain the occasional crime/mystery novel trope, the story is unique and vividly imagined with true twists and turns that the reader does not see coming until the moment the protagonist does -- which is EXACTLY how crime fiction should read.

From the start, the book puts you in the center of the less-than-desirous Washington D.C. neighborhood where Sarah Reece, the teenage daughter of a prominent federal judge, is murdered. Although the brief scene where the central crime is committed is only a few pages long, Tucker manages to make Sarah an interesting character with secrets to hide and someone the reader cares about avenging. Once we meet Sully Carter, our narrator and an investigative journalist, it's obvious Tucker's ability to create multidimensional characters isn't by chance.

Sully is a flawed, almost Bryonic hero of sorts; he has his own set of morals and what he considers right and wrong may not match yours exactly (or even a little), but he stays true to those ideals. The fact that he is a reporter and not a member of law enforcement comes in handy when less-than-legal means are necessary to discover information. His wit is wry and his drinking problem is, well, a problem. His previous life spent as a war reporter was troubled, and Tucker manages to make the flashbacks to explain Sully's past fit seamlessly into the main narrative of Sully's hunt for Sarah's murderer. I hate to make comparisons, especially because this novel is nothing like J.D. Robb's In Death series, but Sully reminds me of a wonderful hybrid of Dallas (for her wit, passion, and commitment) and Roarke (for his manliness and disdain for the status quo). 

Without giving too much away, I will say the plot twists are both fantastic and believable.  The Ways of the Dead is not a mystery where you realize things are coming chapters before they finally happen, but instead reads like you are next to Sully, discovering things at the same moment as he is, unwrapping the crimes and neighborhood one piece of evidence at a time. The mystery of who killed Sarah Reese is the catalyst for Sully's investigation, but this novel takes twists and turns that make it more than just a formula mystery novel. Highly recommend!

Summary via Goodreads

Sarah Reese, the teenage daughter of a powerful Washington, D.C. judge, is dead, her body discovered in a slum in the shadow of the Capitol. Though the police promptly arrest three local black kids, newspaper reporter Sully Carter suspects there’s more to the case. Reese’s slaying might be related to a string of cold cases the police barely investigated, among them the recent disappearance of a gorgeous university student.   A journalist brought home from war-torn Bosnia and hobbled by loss, rage, and alcohol, Sully encounters a city rife with its own brand of treachery and intrigue. Weaving through D.C.’s broad avenues and shady backstreets on his Ducati 916 motorcycle, Sully comes to know not just the city’s pristine monuments of power but the blighted neighborhoods beyond the reach of the Metro. With the city clamoring for a conviction, Sully pursues the truth about the murders—all against pressure from government officials, police brass, suspicious locals, and even his own bosses at the paper.    A wry, street-smart hero with a serious authority problem, Sully delves into a deeply layered mystery, revealing vivid portraits of the nation’s capital from the highest corridors of power to D.C.’s seedy underbelly, where violence and corruption reign supreme—and where Sully must confront the back-breaking line between what you think and what you know, and what you know and what you can print. Inspired by the real-life 1990s Princeton Place murders and set in the last glory days of the American newspaper, The Ways of the Dead is a wickedly entertaining story of race, crime, the law, and the power of the media. Neely Tucker delivers a flawless rendering of a fast-paced, scoop-driven newsroom—investigative journalism at its grittiest.