Harry Dolan's newest novel in his acclaimed David Loogan series delves into the past, when David Loogan was still David Malone. The Last Dead Girl, prequel to 2009's Bad Things Happen, finds a 26-year-old David quickly falling for a mysterious law student, Jana. But after just 10 short days together, Jana is murdered, and David unfortunately becomes the lead suspect. In David's first foray into the world of investigation, Dolan delivers "a tense and involving tale, with quite a number of surprises along the way," which is exactly what we've come to love about this series.
We caught up with Harry Dolan and chatted about the setting of the novel, why The Long Goodbye is a must read, his next project and more in a 7 questions interview.
Describe your book in one sentence.
Twenty-six-year-old David Malone is drawn into a romance with a beautiful and enigmatic young law student, but when she’s murdered he must delve into her past to find her killer.
What do you love most about your main character, David Malone (later known as David Loogan)?
David tends to be a loner, but he can also be a loyal friend—the kind of friend who would help you bury a body. He has a strong sense of justice and he’s willing to bend the law a little if he needs to in order to bring about the right outcome. He’s clever and quick-witted, and he has a knack for getting into trouble.
What inspired you to set The Last Dead Girl in your hometown of Rome, New York?
I originally intended to set the book in Ann Arbor, Michigan—the setting for my two previous novels, Bad Things Happen and Very Bad Men. At first, the young law student at the center of the story, Jana Fletcher, was going to be an intern at Gray Streets, the crime magazine David edits, and they weren’t going to be romantically involved. But then I realized that the story would work better if David and Jana were the same age, and if they were lovers. That’s when I decided that The Last Dead Girl would be a prequel, set in 1998. And that meant that it would be set in Rome, which is David’s hometown as well as my own. I had a lot of fun using real locations I remembered from growing up in Rome—including a footpath that ran alongside a remote stretch of the old Erie Canal, which turned out to be a perfect spot to commit a murder.
Where’s your favorite place to write?
I do all my writing at home in a spare bedroom that I’ve converted into an office. I sit in a comfy leather chair and write on a laptop. I wish I had a more exotic answer to this question. I’m envious of people who can write in cafés or other public places, but I’ve never been able to; I find them too distracting.
Name one book you think everyone should read.
One of my favorites, which I’ve returned to several times, is The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler. There’s real emotion in that book; there’s a friendship at the center of it. There’s gorgeous writing and terrific dialogue—and all the brilliant scenes and twists you could hope for in a crime novel. There’s also a long dissertation on beautiful blondes that has never been matched.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?
I took a course on writing from the novelist Frederick Busch, and one of the things I remember him saying is that you always have to do justice to your characters. Even in a crime novel, where it might seem that the plot is the primary thing, you have to do your best to make the characters real, to make them want real things. I try to do that, even with the villains.
I’m working on my fourth book now. I don’t usually talk about projects before they’re finished, and I don’t want to give away anything about the plot. But I will say that this one is something different; it’s not part of the David Loogan/David Malone series. In some ways it’s a challenge not to be writing about David, but it’s liberating too. And for fans of the series, I’ll add that I have every intention of returning to David in future books.