Dolan, Harry. The Last Dead Girl.

NY: Putnam, 2014.

Dolan, who has written two first-rate murder mysteries featuring magazine editor David Loogan of Ann Arbor, has found a novel way to avoid (for now) simply turning out a third episode: He takes his protagonist back more than a decade, to 1998, when his name was still David Malone and he was living in Rome, New York. So Malone’s personality and ways of dealing with the world are pretty much the same, even though the setting is entirely different.

Malone makes a reasonable living doing home inspections in the local real estate market. He’s living with his semi-fiancée, an intern at the teaching hospital, and his life is comfortable. Then, for what seem at the time to be good reasons, he drives off and leaves her one night. And meets young Jana Fletcher, whose car is broken down on the side of the road after hitting a deer. He gives her a lift home. And spends the night. And doesn’t go home again for days. He thinks he might be falling in love with her. And then he comes back to her place one day after work and finds her dead body. Of course, he’s a suspect, though he didn’t do it. But he’s going to find out who did. His quest will lead him into a world of complicated relationships among the city’s sketchier, creepier characters, and we learn, gradually, just what Jana’s demons were. They’re pretty horrific, actually. And we watch as Malone tries to collect clues and uncover answers and figure out just what happened.

Dolan is very good at characterization and he does it without being obvious about it. Malone tells you what he’s thinking, and how he feels about it all, and the reader learns from that, perhaps without being entirely aware of it. Even the minor supporting players come through loud and clear. Dolan also likes complicated plots, but you won’t be driven to taking notes — not quite. This author is definitely now on my “automatic” list.

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