Friday, September 8, 2017

Book Review: 'Very Bad Men' by Harry Dolan

"I have done justice and righteousness;
Do not leave me to my oppressors." -- Psalm 119:121 (NKJV)

Although Very Bad Men can certainly be enjoyed as a standalone novel, many of the nuances in the characters of Detective Elizabeth Waishkey and David Loogan won't be fully appreciated by you unless you read Bad Things Happen first. I listened to the audio recordings of the two books in the reverse order . . . and am kicking myself for doing so. This two-book series (so far) is filled with wonderful references to the detective literature that warm the hearts of those who love American-style mysteries. I thought that Erik Davies did a great job of reading Very Bad Men, and I commend that version of the novel to you.

Very Bad Men has several narrators. The dominant one in the book's earliest parts is Anthony Lark who has decided to take revenge on the perpetrators of a failed bank robbery in which one robber was killed and a sheriff was crippled for life. Lark is one of those obsessed serial killers whose perverted logic makes such mysteries chilling and fascinating to read. As you learn more about Lark, you soon appreciate that other people have different agendas that are served and threatened by Lark. Waishkey and Loogan are on separate paths to solve the murders. In this novel, Loogan is now the editor of "Gray Streets," a literary detective magazine and Waishkey is still part of the Ann Arbor, Michigan police. They also live together along with Waishkey's daughter. Needless to say, Loogan's investigations make for big problems for Waishkey. It's an interesting tension that makes the book more interesting. "Gray Streets" is right in the middle after Lark writes a note confessing a murder as part of a story that he leaves at "Gray Streets."

I am very fond of Michigan, especially Ann Arbor, so the local color added a lot to my enjoyment. Very Bad Men includes some Upper Peninsula visits that made the book all that more appealing.

The story itself has serious literary value from its patina-like way of building the story, one thin layer of perspective at a time, by combining narration with lots of logical deductions and police procedural thoroughness. The plot is complex, which makes it more challenging and interesting to put the pieces together and to understand the role each character is actually playing (as opposed to appearing to play).

I am seriously excited to read future books in this series. It's a cut above the new detective series I've read in recent years.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Donald Mitchell. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.