In Harry Dolan’s bestselling thriller Bad Things Happen, David Loogan arrives in Ann Arbor, Mich., hoping to start anew after his life was derailed by an act of violence. But crime confronts him again when a friend who edits a mystery magazine is murdered.
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In Dolan’s sequel, Very Bad Men, Loogan is now busy as the magazine’s new editor and romantically involved with Elizabeth Waishkey, the detective he met in the first book. But Loogan still can’t avoid mayhem. He gets involved in a disturbed young man’s plot to kill three people who robbed a bank 17 years ago. The bloody quest may have connections to a U.S. Senate campaign and the kidnapping of a charming tabloid reporter. It all makes for a fast-paced read that has as many twists as corpses.
Here, Dolan talks about crime writing in Ann Arbor, what makes Loogan tick and a legendary writer’s pithy blurb.
Crime thrillers based in major cities are almost genres within the genre. Your stories unfold in an unlikely place: Ann Arbor, Mich. You live there, but why does the city work for you as a crime writer?
My first book was set around a mystery magazine, Gray Streets, and the characters were highly educated people, many of them associated with the University of Michigan. So, in that sense, a college town worked well. The irony of writing crime novels based in Ann Arbor is not lost on me. The murder rate in the real Ann Arbor is maybe one a year. In my version, it’s quite a bit higher.
Your hero, David Loogan, is an intriguing creation. He’s not violent, but violence seems to find him. He’s smart and resourceful, but he’s only a tough guy when he absolutely needs to be. What’s your take on him?
There’s a tongue-in-cheek quality to the character. He’s a guy who edits a mystery magazine and gets himself entangled in mysteries. Loogan started out as a quintessential loner, a man nobody really knows. But I soon discovered he has a social side—he tends to befriend people. The plot of the first book is driven by his friendship with Tom Kristoll, the original editor of Gray Streets. When Kristoll is killed, Loogan has to investigate. That’s really the key to David Loogan—he almost can’t help but get involved with people.
Bad Things Happen was populated with witty, sophisticated crime writers, which gave the book a hint of Agatha Christie. But as the title suggests, things are rougher in Very Bad Men. You’ve got corrupt cops, scheming politicians and a psychotic killer.
I made a conscious effort in the second book to introduce more action, to make Loogan tougher. Loogan gets into more fights and chases. But he’s still more likely to carry a Swiss army knife than a gun. In Very Bad Men, the challenge was to see if I could portray violence in offbeat and intelligent ways. At the start, you don’t really understand what’s motivating the killer Anthony Lark. He’s a very dark, disturbed character. But I looked for ways to humanize him, by filling in his background and giving him a sort of odd romantic relationship with a grad student, a woman he meets by chance.
Your characters have interesting names. Even Loogan is a bit unusual. Do you put a lot of work into names?
I usually have a hard time coming up with them, and I often end up with something strange. I came across Willie Sutton while researching bank robbers and named one of the robbers in the book Sutton Bell. It’s funny, there’s a lawyer in Bad Things Happen named Rex Chatterjee, which is an unusual name if there ever was one. But after the book came out, I got an e-mail from a law student named Rex Chatterjee, asking how I had come to use his name.
Fledgling crime writers would kill for the success you had with Bad Things Happen, especially the, um, provocative blurb from Stephen King.
The Stephen King thing was amazing. My agent knows his publisher. Apparently King was on tour for Under the Dome and his publisher went to see him. King read her a passage from a book he was reading. It was my book. Eventually he sent me an e-mail, with a blurb that included a four-letter word. He told me we’d probably have to take it out if we were going to use the quote on the cover. But we left it in and dressed it up with some well-placed asterisks.
Can we expect more Loogan stories?
Definitely. I’m currently writing a new book featuring Loogan, as well as Elizabeth Waishkey and her daughter, Sarah. The story revolves around the murder of an intern at Gray Streets.