Murder, D.C.
Neely Tucker
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Buy *Murder, D.C.: A Sully Carter Novel* by Neely Tuckeronline

Murder, D.C.: A Sully Carter Novel
Neely Tucker
320 pages
August 2016
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Tucker hasn’t let any moss grow under his feet since he burst onto the scene with his debut thriller, The Ways of the Dead. Like his first novel, Murder, D.C. is gritty and provocative, set in the nation’s capitol, where power and crime create a pressure cooker between politics, privilege, and the ugly underbelly of poverty and the criminal enterprise it breeds. It’s the year 2000, and veteran metro reporter Sully Carter, who made his journalistic bones in the war in Bosnia and bears the emotional scars of family tragedy, is hard-drinking and fearless, keenly aware of the tensions that exist in a city of extremes, the White House scant miles from the drug-fueled criminality of Frenchman’s Bend.

Race and class are integral to the story that thrusts Sully into the middle of the murder of a young black man found floating in the Potomac River off Frenchman’s Bend--Billy Ellison, scion to one of the richest and most influential African-American families in DC. The “Bend,” an infamous hub of the once-flourishing slave trade in the city, is now the nexus of gang activity and a lucrative drug trade, a place “where DC went to kill and be killed.” There is no easy explanation for this young man’s presence at the Bend or his tragic end. Visiting the scene of the crime, Carter learns how little evidence there is to lead to an arrest. However, Sully quickly learns the danger of visiting the Bend alone, the exclusive territory of the M Street Crew run by brothers Carlos and Tony, in direct competition with the South Caps. Neither his credentials nor verbal patter protect Carter from threat at the Bend. But due diligence is a reporter’s lot, Sully turning first to the most important person in Billy’s short life: his mother, Delores Ellison.

Delores is grieving yet gracious when Sully arrives at her home for a short interview. Nevertheless, he cannot avoid the impression of power and wealth evident in the expensive vehicles lining the drive, the DC movers and shakers paying respects. Mrs. Ellison suggests Carter speak with her boss, her husband’s former partner and Billy’s godfather, lobbyist Shellie Stevens, “one of the most intimidating names in the city, the lawyer who made things go away for the rich and the unclean.” It is a well-known fact that “Stevens’ contempt for the Fourth Estate was what passed for Washington legend.” Not one to make idle threats, Shellie’s power moves obstruct Carter’s plan to write a big story, primarily casting light on a very dark area in Washington’s past. And while he plans to write about the bigger picture in crime-riddled Frenchman’s Bend, Billy’s drama cannot be ignored, even when the suggestion of drugs and gangs expands into truly a dangerous landscape for a reporter who refuses to walk away.

It’s all smoke and mirrors, from the various factions of drug-trafficking gangs in the Bend to the gay bars on nearby O Street, where Billy was a regular. Sully walks into the heart of this volatile territory to untangle the lies and obfuscations around Ellison’s death, stumbling across a power move that puts him in the crosshairs of those who kill without a second thought. Fellow war photographer Alexis de Rossi provides the pictures, even saving Carter from a beating at the hands of the deadly Hull brothers at a street-racing event: “You didn’t wade into the realm of the dead unless you had a purpose.” But Sully’s conflicts with the M Street Crew pale in comparison to the velvet-gloved clout of Shellie Stevens on behalf of the Ellison family. He learns how deep the fear of political power runs when the story hits the street. Sully’s bosses temporize in the face of pressure as the reporter refuses any attempt to whitewash the truth. Though this protagonist is too often at the mercy of the thugs, it is the big dogs in DC that can destroy a career.

Tucker knows this place well, the world of the underdog. Deadly violence and human suffering afflict a population scrambling to survive, from the slave days to the drug-infested culture that spreads through those restricted by poverty to the environs of power, where faceless man make decisions behind closed doors. Billy Ellison is but one lost soul among the many, and the journalist is determined to speak for the dead, no matter where that leads. Like protagonist Sully Carter, Tucker leads with the truth.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2015

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