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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Last Dead Girl by Harry Dolan

Amy Einhorn Books, 416 pages, $26.95

I read the first two books by Harry Dolan, Bad Things Happen and Very Bad Men. They featured book editor David Loogan. Dolan had a knack in those books for creating unusual names for his characters. However, it turns out that Loogan is not David’s real last name. It’s the more prosaic-sounding Malone. And David is only his middle name. His first name is Darrell.

David’s troubled past has been hinted at and this, finally, is that story.

The Last Dead Girl explains a turning point in Darrell David Malone’s life about ten years earlier. 1998 is when it all happened for 26-year-old David, although almost half the narrative is from 1996. Sharing narrative duties with David, who gives us a first-person point-of-view, are third-person tales of David’s love interest, Janna Fletcher, in 1996 and 1998, and a creepy serial killer in 1998. And, to complicate the point-of-view storytelling, David is telling his part of the story from a present-day perspective. Complicated is easy for Dolan. So is odd.

Dolan’s first book, Bad Things Happen, has an unusual feel to it. It is dream-like and complex, and nothing is straightforward. The Last Dead Girl is a little more “normal,” like David’s last name, but the twists and unexpected roller coaster drops are still there. Even the obligatory facing-the-killer-in-the-storm scene at the end twists in a different direction. Dolan has created two intertwining stories with different styles (Imma-gonna-solve-this-murder-cause-Imma-man-and-the-cop-has-his-head-in-an-anatomically-impossible-position amateur detective and girl-in-jeopardy thriller).

David’s fiancée, Sophie, has an affair. David leaves their apartment to clear his head and meets Jana, a law student, when her car is disabled. (Who needs Match.com?) For the next ten days, he virtually lives with her. Then Jana is murdered and, of course, David is hauled in as a suspect by Detective Frank Morelli.

Is Jana’s death related to “The Innocence Project” case she took on as a law student? She was convinced that Gary Pruett was wrongly convicted of killing his wife. Hey, what a coincidence! Morelli oversaw Pruett’s case as well. Suspicious of what Morelli is hiding from him, David decides to solve Jana’s murder himself.

Dolan intersperses David’s story with what he calls “interludes.” In recent flashbacks and older flashbacks, we learn what Jana has done to put herself in harm’s way, assuming she wasn’t a random victim of the Rome, New York, criminal element. Dolan also shows us a killer stalking, well, just about everybody. “K” — maybe that stands for Killer — is appropriately wacko, and David gets to unmask him in a stormy denouement.

Dolan is an original voice. He is obviously a fan of old-fashioned crime, as evidenced by his references to old-timey authors and his noirish voice (more noticeable in the other books), but he also believes in keeping his readers off balance.

There are some creepy, creepy scenes, so it wasn’t all Mickey Spillane. It’s hard-boiled and noir for the 21st century.

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