Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Take a Walk Down Bad's Gray Streets

Back-cover blurbs should serve to sell a novel, but those adorning Harry Dolan's Bad Things Happen almost made me put it down. When Nelson DeMille, Karin Slaughter and James Patterson heap kudos on a book, I start thinking, "Yeah, I bet this will end up being a hyper-commercialized title, the kind of mindless mystery that gives the term 'beach read' a bad name." But while Bad Things Happen certainly has mainstream appeal, Dolan possesses more erudition, good humor and plain old writing chops than the average bestselling writer.

David Loogan isn't David Loogan's real name. He chose it when he came to Ann Arbor, part of a new start to his life. While lounging in a coffee shop one day, he comes across a short-fiction magazine named Gray Streets, a magazine filled with stories of tough men and dangerous dames -- a magazine featuring stories where plans go wrong, bad things happen and people die. On a whim, Loogan jots down a short and drops it at the magazine's editorial office. That leads to a meeting with the magazine's editor, Tom Kristoll, and an eventual friendship. Tom begins asking Loogan to dinner parties. He asks him to help with editing some stories. He asks him to drop by the office now and again to share a midnight sip of scotch. Then one day he asks Loogan to buy a shovel and meet him in the woods. Seems Tom Kristoll has a body that needs burying.

Normally it smacks of a lack of research when an author populates his book with writerly types. But Dolan quickly proves that the choice wasn't due to laziness. He thoroughly integrates all of the authors associated with Gray Streets into his plot, and what a plot it is. Not only does Dolan continually toy with readers' expectations through nail-biting twists, he also includes uncommon references to Shakespeare and ancient myth. In fact, the ending veers close to surreal fantasy. Add in stylistic nods to noir and hardboiled, and you've got quite a novel on your hands. True, Dolan sometimes relies too much on dialogue to spell out conundrums. But otherwise there's precious little Bad about this debut effort.

(Picture: CC 2007 by Bo47)


B. Nagel said...

Bad Things sounds like a fun and interesting read. Especially this part: "he also includes uncommon references to Shakespeare and ancient myth. In fact, the ending veers close to surreal fantasy."

Loren Eaton said...

It really is. However, the myth and fantasy are just little details rather than the fabric of the story, but they're nice. Bad falls firmly in mystery/thriller territory.