“My name is David Loogan. Most of the manuscripts that come to me are awful, but some of them have promise. I find the best ones and polish them up and publish them in a mystery magazine called Gray Streets. Maybe it’s not surprising then, that my part in this story begins with a manuscript. The facts are simple enough. I found it on a Wednesday evening in mid-July, in the hallway outside my office. That’s not unusual. Local authors leave manuscripts out there more often than you’d think. This one was different, though. It came in a plain, unmarked envelope and amounted to fewer than ten pages. It was the story of three murders, two already committed, one yet to come. And it wasn’t fiction.”
And so Harry Dolan introduces the reader to the crime we are about to examine. Those aren’t the first lines of Very Bad Men; the author first tells us how Loogan’s relationship with Detective Elizabeth Waishkey – a good cop with smarts and heart – turned to love. For those who read his debut novel, Bad Things Happen it’s a great way to show what what happened “between books” in the series. And for any reader, it sets up what Loogan has to lose.
I gave a rave review to the first book. In fact, I was disappointed that Bad Things Happen wasn’t an Edgar finalist for Best First Novel! Now Loogan’s back in Very Bad Men, and once again the plot involves the magazine as well as his now-live-in-love, Detective Elizabeth Waishkey and her daughter Sarah.
The story progresses through two points of view: Loogan’s first person narrative, sharing his thoughts and actions related to the pursuit of the killer, and Anthony Lark’s, the killer himself, which unfolds in third person.
Lark has a list of names: Terry Dawtry, Harry Kormoran, and Sutton Bell. These three men, along with Floyd Lambeau and the unknown driver of the getaway car, robbed the Great Lakes Bank 17 years ago. The robbery went bad, Lambeau was killed and Sheriff Harlan Spencer was shot and paralyzed. Lark’s out for retribution on behalf of Spencer’s daughter Callie, but we don’t know why. He’ll stop at nothing – including killing innocent people – to accomplish his goal, despite debilitating headaches. He hears his doctor’s voice in his head, helping him keep it all together.
As in Dolan’s first book, the plot is complex but not convoluted, and the author achieves the miracle of making you care about each and every person in the book – including Anthony Lark. Bad Things Happen is not a who-done-it but a fascinating why-done-it. How is the murderer connected to the robbery? What’s the connection to Callie Spencer’s race for the U.S. Senate? And who has intrepid tabloid reporter Lucy Navarro?
You won’t see the plot twists coming, but they all hang together, and the ending feels just right. Nobody’s completely bad, not even the most evil character. You’ll have a hard time putting this one down, because Very Bad Men is a very good book.