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by Harry Dolan
Putnam, January 2014
402 pages
ISBN: 0399157964

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A character who works in real estate but can't seem to resist investigating a murder, to the vexation of the police, is usually called an "amateur sleuth" – except when the sleuth is a man and the author is Harry Dolan. Somehow Dolan makes it entirely plausible that a home inspector would become obsessively involved in solving the murder of a woman whom he barely knew, and though his sleuth is sometimes lucky to stumble on important clues, he seems more like a dogged detective than a rank amateur.

David Malone (who later appears in BAD THINGS HAPPEN, though with a different name) is working as a home inspector in Rome, New York in 1998 when the police pick him up to ask him about the murder of Jana Fletcher. He'd met her one night when he was out driving aimlessly and a deer ran beside his car on a dark road. Jana was not so lucky; her car hit the deer, who seems dead – but when she touches him, he leaps up and darts into the woods. After this strange, magical moment, David (who is smarting from his fiancée's betrayal) spends the night with Jana, who is researching the case of a man she believes has been wrongfully convicted. Though Malone is quickly cleared of Jana's murder, the lead detective would just as soon that he leave the investigating to the pros.

Malone can't help himself. His life is at a crossroads. He wants to know what happened to Jana, who had dark secrets of her own. She had a bruise on her cheek and had been troubled by the feeling that someone was watching her. Maybe that popsicle stick Malone found in the woods is a clue.

The well-paced story, leavened with touches of smart, wry humor, is at times quite dark and always compelling even though elements of it are not original. There are creepy rustics who hold a woman captive as a sex slave. Portions of the story are told from the point of view of a sadistic killer who spends a lot of time lurking in the shadows thinking about how much he enjoys killing women. But the pace is brisk, the characters vivid, and the narrative chronologically complex but beautifully executed. What might be implausible, hackneyed, or over-dramatic in other hands works brilliantly, because Harry Dolan is a fine writer who knows how to take familiar elements and make them fresh.

§ Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, February 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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