"A Journalist? Hell no, I work in television."Well, it's writing like Neely Tucker's that impressed me then and impresses me now. I put the book down when I was about half-way through and thought, "Man, this is what my book wants to be when it grows up." I'm not putting down "Courier," but Sully, the anti-hero in "The Ways of the Dead" rides a Ducati! I mean, the son of a bitch even has a better bike than I do!
This is a flat-out great book. It's a classic noir with a beaten-up, scarred, drunken hero in the beaten-down, scarred, and broken city of Washington DC back in the 90s when you'd have thought there was a new murder on every edition of the Washington Post. I don't mean every day's paper, but one for the Suburban, the Metro, the Sports Update, and even the Bulldog. (that's the next-day edition that comes out at 11pm the night before. I used to be sent to buy a couple of copies from an old guy who stood in front of the Mayflower Hotel. He only charged a quarter but I always paid 50 cents because it was cold out there.)
Tucker knows this rat-infested world of peeling paint and front porch steps covered with green fake grass. Sully moves (on that damn Ducati) through the city from the mahogany offices of the white and powerful to the dingy crack houses way up in Northeast. The descriptions are dead-on, the dialog is pitch-perfect, and the picture of the Washington DC that real people really live in is as accurate as the pictures on television are false.
Sully Sullivan, a reporter of course, has more than a passing resemblance to the Continental Op or Sam Spade--a man alone, moving through a dark and evil world, and trying to maintain his personal set of values. A murder that everyone else solves through the easy answer of "it's gotta be young black street punks," Sully sees as something deeper and far worse. He follows that trail through the mud and rats of abandoned basements in Petworth and past the arrogant attitudes of the Ivy League editors who run the newspaper. In the end...
Well, you've got to buy it and see for yourself. It's a great book with the sort of writing that slips between knocking you back with grand literary language and pissing you off with off-pitch renditions of street talk. It just slides down easy; you don't even notice how good it is until you put the book down and then it's just a deeply satisfied feeling--like an excellent dinner in a local diner.
I still hate him for the Ducati though.