Book Notes: An end-of-summer thriller
“Only the Hunted Run” By Neely Tucker. Viking, New York, August 2016. $27.
Washington Post journalist and thriller author Neely Tucker’s third in the Sully Carter series, “Only the Hunted Run,” gets off to a fine, explosive start. Sully Carter, a D.C. journalist, is doing some research in the Capitol building when all hell breaks loose. A rampaging killer is shooting people. He’s also killed a U.S. representative with ice picks. Sully, who hides in a bathroom, sees the killer and the tortured body of Rep. Edmonds. This happens just minutes after Sully comforts a dying woman as she bleeds out. Guns, ice picks, explosives and knives are the weapons of choice in this thriller.
Things settle down a bit after the opening scenes. Because Sully is the only journalist in the Capitol at the time, he takes on the role of lead reporter and writer in what becomes a complicated story. The killer, Terry Running Waters, wants Sully to communicate for him. The bond, contrived and trite as it is, seems to be reinforced by the fact that both Sully’s and Waters’ mothers were murdered. The big questions are: Who is Waters? Why did Waters stab Rep. Edmonds in the eyes with ice picks? What happened to Waters’ mother? Vengeance is at play and we know there’s a lot more bloodshed to come. Though Sully is trying to get the story right, he’s also tracking down a sick killer who is outsmarting law enforcement. The FBI is on the case but Sully’s relentless detecting puts him out ahead of both the law and press.
Sully winds up at a reservation in Oklahoma and a D.C. mental institution called St. Elizabeths (no apostrophe) — both fertile fields for storytelling — in his search for the killer’s motivation and identity. Tucker, the author, likes a lot of tough talk and over-the-top description. His protagonist, Sully, is meant to be hip, wise and world weary. This is a book yearning to be a movie, with plenty of clever jabbering, smart wisecracks and newsroom jargon between action scenes. St. Elizabeths, with its long history of housing the criminally insane, inspires some of Tucker’s most vivid writing. Transorbital lobotomies and grisly autopsies were conducted at this century-old institution, and they figure into the mystery of Terry Running Waters.
Tucker comes up with a clever twist two-thirds of the way into the book that offsets the reader’s restlessness. Clever banter only goes so far. A good twist is literature’s equivalent to redemption.
Sully is an interesting protagonist. He’s a headstrong reporter with facial scars and a bad leg he got reporting in Bosnia. He drinks too much, has a beautiful female friend who seems to love him and he’s babysitting his sister’s adolescent son. He likes his work and getting the story before the competition is an excellent motivator. Especially after the twist, which can’t be revealed here, we hop onto the fast track, looking over our shoulder for ice picks, the competition that’s bearing down on Sully and, best of all, the unforeseen complications that make this book a worthy end-of-summer distraction from the heat and summer storms.
— Rae Padilla Francoeur’s memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” is available online or in some bookstores. Write her at email@example.com Read her blog at http://www.freefallrae.blogspot.com/ or follow her @RaeAF.