July 13 2011 12:00 AM

A psychotic killer stalks the streets of Ann Arbor in ‘Very Bad Men’


Mystery author Harry Dolan is starting to write about Ann Arbor with the love you would show an old pair of shoes:  He’s very comfortable with his adopted city.

In his second book, “Very Bad Men,” Dolan
continues to write about the “mean” streets of Ann Arbor, but expands
his mystery playground to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. (The U.P. is also
starring in two other mysteries this year in books by Jim Harrison and
Steve Hamilton.)

Dolan made two trips to the U.P. to
research his book, and borrowed a name for one of his key characters
from a gravestone he saw during his journeys.

Dolan, who moved to Ann Arbor about a
dozen years ago from Chapel Hill, N.C., writes animatedly about Ann
Arbor restaurants and the city’s other highlights: A key scene in the
book takes place at the annual Ann Arbor Art Festival, which fills the
streets of the downtown. 

The author, who studied under
award-winning novelist Frederick Busch at Colgate University in
Hamilton, N.Y., has not strayed far from the style of “Bad Things
Happen,” his first mystery featuring amateur detective David Loogan.

Loogan is one of those loners who seem to
drop into mysteries with little or no past — or at least none that they
will reveal. As the editor of the mystery magazine Gray Streets, Loogan
finds himself pulled into a series of murders.

This time, the murders have a backstory.
Nearly two decades ago, three men take a shot at robbing a bank in the
Upper Peninsula. It goes haywire, and all three land in prison after a
sheriff is paralyzed by a gunshot while attempting to  break up the robbery.

Now, a bizarre killer is targeting these
men one by one; he’s left his plans in the form of a manuscript on the
Gray Streets office door stoop for Loogan to find.

Naturally, this will pull in Loogan’s
live-in girlfriend, Elizabeth Waishkey, a police detective. The killer —
who has the great last name Lark — is a dark piece of work, and his
peculiar medical condition adds considerable interest to the mystery.

Loogan and Waishkey take to the road in
search of the truth. Along the way, a U.S. senator who calls Ann Arbor
home and a hotshot political candidate (who is also the daughter of the
paralyzed sheriff) are pulled into the web. To complicate matters
further, a tabloid writer shows up, looking for a story.

Dolan said he needed to take some of the story physically out of Ann Arbor.

“I required something outside of Ann Arbor because of the corrupt law enforcement officers in the book,” he said.

Dolan probably wasn’t trying to duck a
ticket. In “Bad Things Happen” — which received a ringing endorsement
from no less than Stephen King — Dolan’s plot included more murders than
the real Ann Arbor would see in several decades, and he doesn’t let up
in “Very Bad Men.”

Dolan said he added the political element
to the book to emphasize the importance of what he calls “buried
secrets,” which drive the plot: “I wanted to use something so important
that those involved would do anything to keep the secrets buried.”

In this case, the up-and-coming political candidate, Callie, has a lot to lose if her heroic father is discredited.

Dolan said he tried to do several things
differently in his second book, including writing both in the first and
third person. In his first book, he wrote everything in the first
person; this time, only David Loogan’s insights are written in that
style. When Loogan’s not present, the book is written in the third

“In the first book, Loogan didn’t know
anything,” Dolan said, “and this time I entangled him with other people,
especially the tabloid reporter, Lucille Navarro.”

Dolan also said he made “a conscious effort to make more action” in the new book.

He’s not quite up to say, author Lee
Child’s level of mayhem, but Dolan’s second mystery does leave a little
more blood on the carpet. 

He said he likes setting his mysteries in Ann Arbor (the next one has a Gray Streets’ intern turning up dead).

“It’s an offbeat setting for a mystery,”
he said. “Most mysteries are in big cities — Boston, Chicago, New York,
Miami — but Ann Arbor has only a little over 100,000 people. I’ve never
lived in a big city. I couldn’t write about one.”

Dolan said he “played fast and loose” with the locations of things, even adding a few buildings to the city, so he  hopes his fellow residents “will go easy on me.”

By total coincidence, Michigan is home to
the quarterly literary mystery publication The Strand Magazine, which
has its headquarters in Birmingham, less than an hour’s drive from Ann

Ann Arbor’s independent bookstore,
Nicola’s Books, has already scheduled a signing on Monday, and Dolan
will speak at the Okemos location of Schuler Books and Music at 7 p.m.
July 21.

Harry Dolan
Author of "Very Bad Men" and  "Bad Things Happen"
7 p.m. Thursday, July 21
Schuler Books and Music
1982 Grand River Ave., Okemos
(517) 349-8840