The Ways of the Dead: A Novel

The Ways of the Dead: A Novel - Neely Tucker 3.5/5 Stars
The Ways of the Dead is set in 1999, during a time when the internet had yet to take over the media, and newspapers are still the primary source for news. After the teenage daughter of a high-powered Washington, DC judge is killed in an inner-city alley, the murder seems pretty open and shut after three black boys are arrested for the slaying. Of course they did it, right? But a head-strong DC Metro reporter smells something fishy and suspects a link between this case and a number of unsolved murders of minority women in the neighborhood.

It was a refreshing change to read about a newspaper reporter doing the legwork and using his skills to solve the crime, instead of your usual private dick or police officer. The book is the debut novel of Neely Tucker, who is himself a Washington DC area reporter, who uses his knowledge to lend a real authenticity to the day to day work of the newsmen in the book. I also love reading books set in DC, as I lived there while going to college. This one was especially enjoyable as I lived in the Park View area that is prevalent in the novel.

There are two things that make this book worth reading. The first: Tucker has a great knack for writing dialogue that sounds the way that real people talk. It flows, feels totally authentic, but has a little extra flair. His writing style reminds me the most of [a:Richard Price|16481|Richard Price|], with a little hint of [a:George Pelecanos|47387|George Pelecanos|], two of my favorites. The second, and probably the most impressive thing about the book is the main character, Sullivan "Sully" Carter. I got a kick out of reading about him and he definitely deserves a series. Sully was blown up when reporting on the war in Bosnia (with the scars and limp to prove it), lost his true love there, drives a Ducati sports bike he didn't exactly acquire on the straight, would prefer to drink bourbon for every meal of the day, has contacts all over the city from city prosecutors to urban gang lords, and has a dogged determination in his work.
"You never stopped moving. That was the thing. You just kept pushing, driving, asking, sticking your nose in people's faces, taking the shit, the insults, fighting back the depression and the sense of hopelessness and then, out of the void, sometimes somebody told you something."

But the major problem with this novel is the plotting. Just like the bland, uninspired title, the plot itself is nothing special and seems no different than any other run of the mill modern mysteries. The pacing is uneven and there are also too many coincidences and convenient plot points set to push the story forward. Sully is conveniently the only person in the story who believes that there is more than meets the eye in the murder, even though it seems pretty obvious. This prevented me from enjoying the book fully, but I believe with Tucker's talent for dialogue and armed with a great character like Sully, he could turn out some great work in the future if teamed up with a solid story.