Jane's Reviews > Bad Things Happen

Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan
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Jan 04, 12

bookshelves: mystery

Here's the review I posted at MADreads:
http://www.madisonpubliclibrary.org/m...

Sometimes I'm reluctant to write a review of a book. Not because the book was bad but because it was good. So good that I know I won't be able to do it justice with my own words. Bad Things Happen is just such a book. Harry Dolan crosses Raymond Chandleresque noir with Quentin Tarantino's rapid-fire dialog and complicated plotting style. All this leavened with enough dry wit to make a Jane Austen fan sit up and take notice.

This literary mystery set within the literary mystery community of Ann Arbor (the perfect noir setting, of course!) is best described by Dolan's own characters:

"A reporter came to interview us. I think he was expecting a typical literary journal, but we were publishing mysteries and crime stories. What was the theme? he wanted to know. If we had to describe a Gray Streets story in one sentence, what would it be? Tom had an answer ready, almost as if he expected the question: 'Plans go wrong, bad things happen, people die.'" (pg. 162)

Gray Streets is what brings the hero of this tale, the mysterious David Loogan, into the world of Ann Arbor's crime fiction literary scene. David, a recent transplant to Michigan, leads an isolated, quiet life. Until he meets Tom Kristoll. Tom is the managing editor of Gray Streets and he convinces David to take on some editing work for the magazine. The two men become good friends. So good that when Tom asks David to help dispose of an inconvenient body, David agrees almost without question. Despite his willingness to help and the fact that no one immediately misses the dead man, David is sure he hasn't heard the last of the problem. His fears are justified. Tom is thrown from the fifth floor Gray Streets offiice window and David is drawn in will he or nill he. Especially as police detective Elizabeth Waishkey turns her focus to David.

Words and schemes fly off the page. When a death is made to look like a suicide using a Shakespeare quote, the police chief knows the clue won't be much help:

"'a murderer who quotes Shakespeare.' McCaleb reached the doorway and turned back. 'And the victim is a man who published a literary magazine. A man who, we have to assume, knew plenty of people capable of quoting Shakespeare. A man who lived in Ann Arbor--a city where, if you order a mocha latte, it gets handed to you by someone who's read Hamlet.'"

Dolan's pacing is perfect as he reveals the layers in plot and character. David Loogan is almost as much of a puzzle as the murder. Is he a criminal? A retired assassin? A writer in hiding? I believed all of these things at one point or another. You'll have to read for yourself to see which is true. And if I did think that perhaps Dolan erred by adding just one more twist, it's so small a quibble I had to struggle to find it. Can't wait to see if Dolan can do it again in his sophomore effort, Very Bad Men.

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