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Book Author: Harry Dolan

THE MAN IN THE CROOKED HAT by Harry Dolan: Book Review

Several years ago I reviewed When Bad Things Happen, Harry Dolan’s first novel, and I wrote that I was struck by the twists and turns of the plot.  Mr. Dolan hasn’t lost his touch in the intervening years, as is evidenced by his latest mystery.  You almost need a scorecard to keep track of what’s going on, but a bit of confusion is well worth it; The Man in the Crooked Hat is an outstanding novel.

Jack Pellum is deep in grief over the murder of his wife.  At the time of her death, nearly two years earlier, he was a Detroit police detective, but his obsession with finding Olivia’s killer led first to his suspension and then to his quitting the force.  He doesn’t care about that; in fact, he doesn’t care about anything at all except finding the killer.  He spends his days and nights looking for any thread that might lead him to a man in the crooked hat, a man he saw the day his wife died.  He has papered his neighborhood with flyers asking for information about him, but so far there have been no results.

Then a young man in a Detroit neighborhood commits suicide, leaving a bizarre note on his living room wall–There’s a killer, and he wears a crooked hat.  That’s all the incentive Jack needs to look into Dan Cavanaugh’s death, and with that he becomes immersed in investigating a series of deaths in the area that may or may not be connected to his wife’s.  There doesn’t seem to be anything similar about these deaths–two of which have been deemed accidents–but the fact that there are so many has Jack convinced, or almost convinced, that if he’s able to untangle the strands he will find Olivia’s murderer.

Finally Jack gets a response to the posters.  Paul Rook, a man whose mother was murdered nine years ago, contacts him.  Her killer was never found, and he is convinced that the man who murdered her wore a hat, a man he saw near his house only two days before his mother’s death.  He tells Jack to stop looking for a thread that connects all the murders because there is none.

“But if you look for him,” Paul says, “if you’re patient, you can find him.”  Paul has been doing his own research into murders in the greater Detroit area.  The earliest murder he can find that he’s sure this man committed goes back twenty years, and that victim was the older brother of Dan Cavanaugh, the man who just killed himself.

Jack is a man who has given up virtually everything in his search for his wife’s killer.  His job, his friends, his relationship with his parents have all faded away beside his need to find Olivia’s murderer and the reason for her death.  Is it justice he seeks, or is it vengeance?

The Man in the Crooked Hat is a brilliant look into the dangers of obsession and where they can lead.

You can read more about Harry Dolan at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

BAD THINGS HAPPEN by Harry Dolan: Book Review

Whew–I feel as if I just got off a roller coaster going at top speed. That’s the effect that Bad Things Happen had on me.

Harry Dolan’s debut novel will make you hold your breath until the end.

David Loogan, now of Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a man without much of a past. Or at least a past he’s willing to share.  He reluctantly takes a job as an editor of a short story crime magazine, Grey Streets, at the urging of its editor, Tom Kristoll.   But shortly afterward, Loogan receives a call from Kristoll asking him to come to his house; when Loogan arrives, there’s a man’s dead body sitting in Kristoll’s study.  Kristoll tells Loogan that this man broke into his house and that he killed the man in self-defense.  Kristoll doesn’t want to go to the police, isn’t sure the police will believe him, and asks for Loogan’s help in disposing of the body.  Loogan reluctantly agrees, and they drive to a field and put the body in a shallow grave.

But then the story starts changing and things get complicated.  Each time Kristoll goes over the story, parts of it change.  Then Loogan begins an affair with Kristoll’s wife, Laura, and things get even more complicated.  And then there are two more deaths.

Elizabeth Waishkey is the detective in charge of the cases. She’s attracted to the mysterious Loogan but keeps trying to tell him that this isn’t a story in Grey Streets but an actual police investigation and that Loogan needs to keep out of it and tell her all he knows.  But Loogan doesn’t want to do that.  Is it because he’s guilty?  Is it because of experiences with the police elsewhere?  Is it because he doesn’t trust the Ann Arbor cops and thinks he is better able to solve the murders that are piling up?  We won’t know the answers to those questions until the end of the novel.

Harry Dolan has crafted an exciting, taut first novel. There are many twists and turns in the plot, what appears plausible in one chapter is explained away in another, and I was always trying to figure out whether this latest version of the story was the truth.  The story is skillfully told, and its characters are appealing.  There are inside jokes, such as the derivation of the hero’s last name, which will either make you feel like an insider or make you feel that you need to go to your local library or bookstore and re-read some of the classics.

I can’t decide if Dolan is planning to make David Loogan the hero of a series or if this is a one-shot deal.  In either case, he has written a first novel well worth reading.

You can read more about Harry Dolan at his web site.