November 03, 2011

BOOKS: Very Bad Men, Harry Dolan (2011)

Seventeen years ago, five men attempted a bank robbery in Michigan. One was killed, one got away, and three were arrested and send to prison. They're all out now, and someone is killing them. The killer's rather proud of his work, going so far as to leave a manuscript confessing to the first killing outside the office door of David Loogan, editor of a small mystery magazine whose girlfriend Elizabeth happens to be a detective on the Ann Arbor police force.

As David and Elizabeth try to figure out, through her official channels and his less official ones, who the killer is and what his motives might be, they wind their way deeper into a complicated case involving an ambitious tabloid reporter, a Senate campaign, and two generations of family secrets.

Dolan has a large cast of characters and a complicated plot here, and he does a marvelous job of keeping the narrative clear. The twists, turns, and revelations do start to pile on a bit too thick in the final act, perhaps, but you won't be confused by any of it. The characters are interesting and convincing, and the mystery is cleverly plotted, with one clue ingeniously revealed through a combination of two elements you wouldn't expect to play a significant role in such a story: grammar and synasthesia.

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