Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
SHOTS publishes some interesting articles. Kevin Wignall's latest on future-proofing your novel is one of the most recent. Reading it in conjunction with Neely Tucker's MURDER, D.C.; I heard bells ringing The next article we need should deal with coincidence, because so much of my recent reading has been of historical or near-past titles. Neely Tucker makes this clear on the first page: 'the first spring of the twenty-first century': this is a murder that took place in 2001, and the title tells you where. The title does not prepare you, though, for what a mess the city turns out to be.
This is the second in Tucker's series about report Sully Carter, a man who has returned from reporting Gulf Wars with a bad case of conscience and a gammy leg. Carter has become obsessed by death, and then, behind the deaths, all the dirty dealings that lead to them. By chance, Carter is on a police boat looking for floaters when they are called to a body on a derelict bend in the river; it is that of a scion of a wealthy family, unusual in that family being black rather than white.
Going back to check out the site, Carter does not take well to being threatened by a couple of goons who make up for their limitations in English grammar with added muscle. Nor does he take well the brush-off that the family's lawyer gives him. His paper is already feeling the downturn in business that has since closed many US news outlets, and cannot give him the time he would like for background research, though the police are straight-up if stretched. Knowing his mental fragility he feels lucky that his camera-woman girlfriend continues to support him.
With a book set fifteen years ago you have to remember how things change. There used to a challenge to pub quizzers: which American city has the highest murder rate? Whichever city was the answer the numbers would always be terrible, but the point was that it moved around the country every few years – it was Chicago, then is was somewhere like St Louis, then it could have been Baltimore. In 2001 it seems that it was Washington D.C. In other words, as far as information went, a lot of the murders in the city were just 'noise'. Sully Carter has to recognise which murders are irrelevant and which are relevant to his case.
It was some way in before I recognised that I was not reading a ‘police procedural’. Instead, as Carter's research was detailed, I was reading a 'reporter procedural'. This is the way that a reporter on a major newspaper would have built up the background story; he becomes a detective on the way, because he finally is able to recognise a common modus operandi among some of the villains he meets, even while he is reading and making sense of detailed historical documents.
'Windmill' is a Penguin imprint. I am not sure why they hide it. The cover does not make it clear that this is the second in a series (The Ways of the Dead was the first, and Only the Hunted Run will be the third). Michael Connolly has praised Neely Tucker's work, but their styles are very different. Instead I was reminded of another Washington revelation, written at the time, George Pelecanos' Soul Circus . Pelecanos would later lend his skills to the TV series The Wire. Altogether, what TV, journalists, and authors such as Tucker and Pelecanos reveal, is just what a sewer the Potomac has become, as it flows to the sea. I worry, though, that their work is not all history.