A follow-up to Tucker's debut, The Ways of the Dead (2014), that’s leaner and (much) meaner than its predecessor.
Barely a year has passed since Tucker, a veteran feature writer for the Washington Post, introduced battered, boozing District of Columbia crime reporter Sully Carter. That may seem like a quick turnaround, but the book sure doesn’t read like one. Tucker’s control of the crime-genre idiom is far more confident; his narrative pacing more measured; and his dialogue, which was his first novel's principal selling point, is snappier and jazzier but also more controlled. This book’s events take place a couple years after those of its predecessor—which puts them at the hinge of the millennium, as some D.C. neighborhoods were still in the throes of the drug trade. A young gay African-American man named Billy Ellison is found dead along the Potomac River basin with a bullet in his head. At first, Carter, along with local homicide detectives, believes Billy to be just another victim of the District’s drug wars, even though his relatively privileged background gets him more ink than some of the other at-risk youths gunned down in the Frenchman's Bend neighborhood. But one of Sully’s best sources, a sinister crime kingpin named Sly, suggests there’s much more going on in “The Bend” than Billy’s death. “That’s the trouble with you reporters,” Sly says sagely. “Y’all always lookin’ at the wrong thing, barking up the wrong goddam tree. Woof woof over here, woof woof over there.” Though it yields him some sleepless nights and glow-in-the-dark bruises, Sully probes deeper into the neighborhood and Billy’s death and uncovers a rat’s nest of betrayal, deceit, and brutality that stretches back as far as the days when The Bend was a Southern slave marketplace. Tucker takes firm control of his seemingly disparate plot points and in the process puts forth a darkly comedic vision of race and justice (or lack thereof) over generations of American history.
There's no more satisfying sight than a writer who knows exactly what he's doing—and only gets better at what he does.