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The Ways Of The Dead – Neely Tucker Review

the-ways-of-the-dead-neely-tuckerReleased: July 2015

In January 2001, Darryl Donnell Turner was convicted for sexually assaulting and murdering numerous women near his Washington DC neighbourhood. His victims were often prostitutes who were unlikely to be immediately missed by anybody. Their deaths weren’t initially attributed to one attacker despite their bodies appearing in the same area. Neely Tucker was a correspondent for the Washington Post during the murderer’s trial and these grisly events inspired his debut novel.

The opening chapter effectively sets the scene and gets the story moving. Tucker writes some beautiful imagery of a crisp Autumn evening which takes a turn for the worst when 15-year-old Sarah Reese is harassed in a store by three teenage boys. Shortly after she tries leaving the shop through the back door, her body is found in a dumpster and the boys who hassled her are nowhere to be seen. Because Sarah is white, wealthy and the daughter of a federal judge, her murder attracts heaps of police and media attention. As the boys from the store are black, they are automatically assumed to be guilty. Tucker wastes no time establishing the prominent themes, promptly focusing on racist stereotypes presented in the media and widespread prejudice against people on the margins of society.

Cynical journalist Sully Carter believes there’s more to the mystery and consults his knowledgeable acquaintance Sly Hastings, a drug baron who is usually one step ahead of the police when it comes to local crime. Ignoring the instructions of his bosses and the police’s suspicions, Sully follows his own line of investigation. He meticulously documents crime in the area and spots an ominous pattern of female bodies turning up yards away from one another. Their bodies have been discarded in fields and abandoned houses, but their deaths are largely ignored by police and the mass media because they aren’t white, rich and ‘respectable’ young women like Sarah Reese. Sully searches high and low for people who may be able to give information, but much of his research is fruitless and his job becomes increasingly risky.

Sully isn’t a particularly likeable protagonist, but he’s an intriguing one. His haunting past makes it difficult for him to connect with others and his bad attitude makes him a nuisance to work with. Nonetheless, he has strong instincts and works harder than the police to give these women the justice they deserve. Sully puts himself in serious danger to get to the bottom of the case and the book reaches a very disturbing climax.

Tucker doesn’t just treat readers to an unsettling whodunnit, he also offers an insightful critique of the racism, classism and sexism in the American media (and American society). The Ways of the Dead is a startling introduction to the Sully Carter series and hopefully the next instalments will be just as surprising.

★★★★

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