THE WAYS OF THE DEAD. By Neely Tucker. Viking. 288 pages. $20.93.
Neely Tucker's debut novel is an utterly thrilling mystery set in Washington, D.C., in the late 1990s, just before the Internet and the rise of smartphones changed the landscape of print journalism.
Sarah Reese, the teenage daughter of a powerful D.C. judge, is murdered, her body discarded in a dumpster behind a corner shop. Three black kids are arrested and the case against them looks promising, but investigative journalist Sully Carter, who has been curating a map of homicides in the area for several years, thinks her death might be connected to a handful of unsolved cases. He ignores directives to chase other angles of the Reese murder and starts looking into a possible serial killer case.
Carter is a recognizable type, a surly rebel who prizes his story above all. He was a war correspondent in Bosnia and is still struggling with physical and emotional wreckage from that period. His investigation is complicated by an antagonistic relationship with Judge Reese, one that threatens Carter's search for the truth, and his career. It all plays out in a meticulously plotted, fast-paced narrative that vividly renders the D.C. setting and taps into the socioeconomic inequity that hinders so many criminal cases from attaining closure. Every character is fully fleshed out and the dialogue is pitch perfect.
For mystery and crime fiction lovers, particularly fans of Elmore Leonard, to whom Tucker dedicates his book, this is a must-read.