Monday, July 13, 2009

Crime Fiction: Bad Things Happen
by Harry Dolan

In Harry Dolan’s Bad Things Happen (Putnam), a man who calls himself David Loogan settles into Ann Arbor, Michigan, to live a quiet life. Bored, he writes a short story that he tosses over the transom of a local crime-fiction magazine called Gray Stories, a clever publication sure to make the denizens of Rara-Avis giddy with visions of fresh noir. Rather than being published, though, he is hired by Tom Kristoll to edit Gray Stories. Before long, Loogan becomes a favorite drinking companion for Tom and a lover for Tom’s wife, Laura. So it’s no surprise who Tom calls when there’s a dead body in his den. He calls the man who calls himself David Loogan. Loogan helps bury the corpse and then ditch the car used to transport it.

That, supposedly, is that.

Until Tom suddenly ends up face-first on the pavement in front of the offices of Gray Stories. Then an intern smitten with Laura apparently shoots himself. Police believe the intern committed suicide in a fit of remorse for having slain Tom Kristoll. Only whatever triggered this series of deaths is far from finished. While Loogan is enigmatic, admittedly behaving like a character one might read about in Gray Stories, he is not considered a suspect, having always been somewhere among people--witnesses--when the killings occurred. But as local police Detective Elizabeth Waishkey digs into the expanding homicide case, Loogan’s past comes back to complicate matters.

Author Dolan starts Bad Things Happen with the feel of an old Alfred Hitchcock movie, maybe Strangers on a Train. Loogan is no Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant, however--he’s far too brooding. Still, one can certainly picture Ray Milland or James Mason playing the part of Tom Kristoll, oozing charm as he lures Loogan into a bizarre web of intrigue. The one thing that strains credibility is Gray Stories itself, a profitable print version of Plots With Guns. Oh, were it a real magazine ... but I digress.

Throughout the yarn, Loogan lightens the mood by juggling for various people. It’s rather appropriate, since Dolan himself is juggling at least four subplots in these pages, as well as a cast of characters likely to inhabit the bar at any writers’ convention. His complex tale has to shift quickly from one thread to the next in the book’s short length, thus helping to ratchet up the suspense. It doesn’t hurt, either, that almost everyone is lying in this story, even when they’re telling the truth.

Bad Things Happen is a clever debut novel mixing wishful thinking with a morally ambiguous cast. Just the kind of tale you would expect to read in Gray Stories.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home