Bad Things Happen offers both good news and bad news for its author, Harry Dolan. The good news is that Dolan’s debut novel is both excellent and a joy to read; the bad news is that he just set the bar so high for himself that it will be difficult to jump that high again his next time out (not a bad tradeoff of good and bad, as I feel certain Mr. Dolan would agree).
As the novel opens, David Loogan is in search of a special shovel, one that will work well in tight quarters. Loogan, a man already hiding from his past, has made the ill-fated decision to help his friend (and boss), Tom Kristoll hide evidence about what happened at Kristoll’s home earlier in the evening. Loogan is no fool, and he knows that what Kristoll wants him to believe about the incident is, on the one hand, too neat, and on the other, full of holes. Loogan, though, is loyal to the man who gave him his new start as an editor at Gray Streets, a mystery magazine, and perhaps because he is sleeping with Kristoll’s wife, he feels compelled to do whatever Kristoll asks of him.
Things go well enough that night but when people associated with the magazine start turning up dead, Loogan begins to realize the danger in which his misplaced sense of loyalty has placed him. Not only is he suspected by the Ann Arbor police of being a murderer, the real murderer is determined to add him to the growing list of formerly-breathing Gray Streets employees.
Clearly, author Harry Dolan is a man who appreciates classic American noir crime fiction. Bad Things Happen is a combination parody/tribute to the crime writing school made famous by the likes of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James Cain, and others, and one can visualize many of the book’s scenes as part of the old black and white movies of that era. One has only to read a list of the names of the book’s main characters to get a feel for the atmosphere Dolan wants to create for his mystery. We have: David Loogan, Bridget Shellcross, Rex Chatterjee, Nathan Hideaway, and Casmir Hifflyn, for starters. It is almost enough to make the reader yearn for a quick game of Clue between chapters.
Bad Things Happen, though, has more than nostalgia to offer its readers. Its finely-crafted plot, filled with unexpected twists and turns, will keep readers guessing the murderer’s identify all the way to the end – wondering even to the last page if they have it figured out this time. David Loogan, Ann Arbor detective Elizabeth Waishkey, and Waishkey’s daughter, Rachel, are memorable characters and, at some point, they deserve a chance to live again in a sequel to Bad Things Happen.
If you know and love the American noir school of crime fiction, the updated version of the genre presented by Harry Dolan in Bad Things Happen is certain to make you smile.
Rated at: 5.0