Dolan’s newest book, “The Last Dead Girl,” won’t disappoint King or Dolan’s steadily growing band of fans who have been attracted to his complex and mysterious protagonist, David Loogan, edi tor of an Ann Arbor crime-fiction magazine and amateur detective. Dolan has created a noir-ish mystery series that rivals the work of both Hammett and Chandler.
“The Last Dead Girl” serves as a prequel to the Loogan-verse; Dolan fills in the missing pieces of a man who lives in some dark shadows of the past. We quickly find out that Loogan, whose real name is David Malone, is not who he appears to be in the previous two novels.
On the same night Malone, who slogs through life as home-inspection specialist, discovers his fianc is having an affair, he runs across a young law student, Jana Fletcher, and a lustful interlude soon turns to what might a budding romance. Not to be. Jana is killed and, of course, Malone is the prime suspect.
This could have been your average mystery whodunit with a clever detective on the scene and the real killer on the loose, with Malone in chase, but Dolan doesn’t let that happen. The investigating detective Frank Moretti holds some of his own dark past close to the vest and may even have his own agenda in rail-roading Malone for the killing of Jana.
The killer, who we only know as “K” in the book, is one of those dark assassins we’ve come to love in thrillers. He’s funny, creative and smart. The reader, through Dolan’s artful writing, is encouraged to become sympathetic to the killer, which, of course, is a big mistake.
These three terrific characters are all woven into a tight story through the young law student who was involved in the Innocence Project and was trying to exonerate a schoolteacher who was sent to prison for life for the killing of his wife.
It’s up Malone to put all these disparate relationships together in a gripping thriller with both the outcome and the motives hidden until the end. Mystery readers who like to jump to the end of a book to find the outcome are definitely cautioned against that.
Dolan spent the holidays in his new home in Ann Arbor. He said in a phone interview he didn’t conceive the first Loogan book as a series, but rather a standalone.
“I didn’t have that in mind, but my agent and publisher thought the character would be good for a series,” he said. They were clearly right, and Dolan’s first book was followed with “Bad Things Happened,” which was again set on the mean streets of Ann Arbor. His newest book takes the author back to his own hometown of Rome, New York, for the setting, but even in this comfortable setting Dolan has stayed true to his dark writing roots.
“It’s darker than anything I’ve written before,” Dolan said. “I didn’t intend it to be, but that’s how it worked out.”
In his first two books on Loogan, you don’t hear much of his backstory. “The Last Dead Girl” is Loogan’s first experience with violence.
“The book explores loss and grief and ends on a melancholy note,” Dolan said. “This shapes him into more of a loner, which we see in the first two books.”
Through the detective character, Morrelli, Dolan explores the common literary theme of an honorable man who finds himself in a situation where he does dishonorable things. Because of the success of his first two books, Dolan has sloughed off his freelance editing and is now able to write full time, but his early success has also created a lot of pressure.
“I now have deadlines,” he said.
“With my first book, nobody was waiting for it. Now I am concerned with sales and feel a lot of pressure to come up with the big idea.”
With his most recent big idea behind him Dolan is working on a stand-alone that he hints will be about a young boy who discovers his father is a hit man. No matter what happens with his next book Dolan will never forget the thrill of getting an email titled: “A Message from Stephen King.”
“I picked up a lot of sales because of that endorsement,” he said.
And for safety, he has printed off numerous copies of the email and resisted bugging King in email. If I were Dolan I’d pull the trigger on an email. King would enjoy this book even more.
Author talk and book signing Saturday, Jan. 11 Schuler Books & Music (Meridian Mall) 1982 W. Grand River Ave., Okemos (517) 349-8840 schulerbooks.com