MURDER, D.C. by NEELY TUCKER (Windmill, 2015, 294pp) ∗∗∗½
Blurb: When Billy Ellison, the son of Washington, D.C.’s most influential African-American family, is found dead in the Potomac near a violent drug haven, veteran metro reporter Sully Carter knows it’s time to start asking some serious questions―no matter what the consequences. With the police unable to find a lead and pressure mounting for Sully to abandon the investigation, he has a hunch that there is more to the case than a drug deal gone bad or a tale of family misfortune. Digging deeper, Sully finds that the real story stretches far beyond Billy and into D.C.’s most prominent social circles. An alcoholic still haunted from his years as a war correspondent in Bosnia, Sully now must strike a dangerous balance between D.C.’s two extremes―the city’s violent, desperate back streets and its highest corridors of power―while threatened by those who will stop at nothing to keep him from discovering the shocking truth.
This is Neely Tucker’s second novel to feature Washington reporter, Sully Carter. Carter is an ex-war correspondent used to the horrors of violence now working on the mean streets of the capital. I hadn’t read the first in the series, The Ways of the Dead, but this did not matter as the plot here is standalone and there is little reference to the earlier novel. Tucker is a reporter himself, working at The Washington Post, and his experience and knowledge of the industry comes through strongly. The page count is refreshingly concise containing an intriguing mystery, which unfolds efficiently and gathers pace in its closing chapters. Tucker has a good sense of dialogue and street culture and his characters largely seem real.
The themes of corporate greed and hidden family secrets are not new to the genre and the character of Sheldon Stevens in particular riffs many similar characters in other novels and films of the past. Tucker doesn’t even necessarily make Sully Carter a likeable hero. Carter is driven to get the story and is not distracted by the consequences of his actions – resolute that he is right all along. His years as a correspondent in war-torn countries have also seemingly de-sensitised him to the horrors he encounters. He uses the criminal underworld and the cops to his own advantage and yet there is a strong sense of justice that lies beneath his skin and this comes to the fore as he discovers the secrets that unravel the mystery surrounding Billy Ellison’s death.
Murder, D.C. then is an enjoyable mystery with an unconventional hero and is well edited, avoiding the padding that many books in the genre increasingly suffer from.