Tag Archives: Harry Dolan

Recently read: quick reviews

Still have a couple of books to review and rank for the Best Novel category of the MWA Edgar awards, but I had to take a few minutes to give a shout out for several books I recently read!

deadFirst, Harry Dolan’s hit another home run with his latest David Loogan book, The Last Dead Girl. The previous two are Bad Things Happen and Very Bad Men.   I gave big thumbs up to both – you can read the review for BTH here and VBM here.  It’s a prequel of sorts, set in 1998, back when Loogan was still known by his birth name, David Malone, and was working as a home inspector.   A chance encounter with law student Jana Fletcher  leads him into a head-over-heels love affair that ends with her bloody murder, and his stubborn quest to uncover the truth about this crime leads to the realization that she was much more than she appeared to be.  Dolan moves the plot along through several points of view, including the protagonist in first person, Jana’s, and the mysterious K.   Many gasps of surprise later, the plot resolution’s complete.

hollowAlso read was the second novel in Ransom Riggs’ YA series that started with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Hollow City.  In this outing, Jacob Portman and his unusual friends are under siege, heading through time and magic to London, where they hope to return the stalwart Miss Peregrine back into human form.  (Big shock when she does change back!)  It’s clever and well-plotted, and the integration of the found photos that makes the series so visually compelling was as fascinating as ever. If you like this kind of thing, you’ll love it.  If you don’t, you find it tiresome and go read something else.

Two oldies but goodies:

brutalSuspense is high in Louise Penny’s The Brutal Telling.  Published in 2009, it was one I discovered at my library – how did I miss it?  Fans of Chief Inspector Gamache will love it, as one of Three Pines’ most beloved characters is accused of murder.   Having read Penny’s more recent books, I was still very surprised at the ending.

witnessAlso fun was Nora Roberts’ 2012 novel, The Witness.  Not generally a giant Roberts fan, I read this one because my husband recommended it.  He bought it on the Kindle after getting a free sample, and suggested it to me by saying “It’s kind of a women’s suspense book but it has a really good main character.”  And so it does.   A super-smart 16 year old college student witnesses a hit by a Russian mobster and goes on the run.  Fast forward 13 years, she’s still in hiding.  How she opens up to a small town lawman and together they outwit the bad guys, winning her freedom, is a page turner.

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Very Bad Men Very Good Book.

“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.

Bad Things Happen a riveting debut

Author Harry Dolan’s website doesn’t give his age, but his photo – with its weighty head, heavy beard, kind eyes and twisted smile – is not that of a wunderkind.  His bio lists both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, plus several years as an editor.  And all that experience with life and with words shows in his debut mystery, Bad Things Happen.

The set-up is this:  the protagonist, a quiet and literate man who is probably not named David Looger, but that’s the name he goes by, has a comfortable life as an editor with the mystery magazine Gray Streets.  He has made friends with the publisher and fallen into an affair with the publisher’s wife.  One day, he gets a phone call from the friend and ends up helping him bury a man in the woods.

This is just the first of many deaths – over time, several people associated with Gray Streets die, a blackmail plot is revealed, and many of the characters are shown to be flawed, at best, including Mr. Looger.  An equally strong and compellingly imperfect character is Detective Elizabeth Waishkey, who has both the brains and the heart to question the obvious and trust her own judgment.

And while the plot and the characters are engaging, I was struck by Dolan’s voice.  His writing style is clear and fine, perfect pace, and a nice use of detail:

Loogan had seen the room before, and in the moment when it was still dark he visualized it: at the far end, a desk with a high-backed chair.  Three arched windows behind the desk.  Bookshelves lining the walls, right and left.  Four upholstered chairs in the open space between the lines of shelves.  The chairs faced one another, two on either side, forming the corner of a perfect square.

The light came on.  Kristoll stood back.  The first thing Loogan saw was that one of the chairs had toppled over.  The second thing he saw was the body.

Dolan has a wonderful way of having Loogan simultaneously view life as life – what really happens – and as a Gray Streets story.  And while reality has a way of being pretty straight forward, it can sometimes be messy and twisted, especially once you’re not just examining who did what, but why.

A particular joy with Bad Things Happen is that all the characters are smart and well-spoken, even the guilty ones. The Washington Post review holds out little hope that the book will reach blockbuster status – too literate.  My disappointment:  Harry Dolan’s Bad Things Happen should have been nominated for Best First Novel by An American Author in the 2010 Edgars.  I actually looked to make sure it wasn’t eligible for 2011!

The good news is that he got a two-book deal from Putnam, so we can be looking for a second mystery.  Maybe soon; the authors in Bad Things Happen are compelled to produce every two years at least.  So spring 2011 at the latest.