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Ann Arbor author Harry Dolan leads readers on a high-speed chase across the United States in his new thriller, "The Good Killer"
Author Harry Dolan’s latest novel is different from his earlier novels.
The Good Killer is more of a thriller than a traditional murder mystery.
And that’s not a bad thing.
According to the 53-year-old Ann Arbor author, it was the best thing about writing this book.
“The central character is not a detective who’s trying to get at the truth,” explained Dolan. “There are crimes that take place, and there are secrets that are revealed at different points in the book, but it’s not structured as a mystery. It was interesting to see if I could write a different kind of story. I hope that the novel works as pure entertainment. But if you dig a little deeper, it’s a book about love and loyalty. It’s about characters searching for redemption.”
In The Good Killer, published by Mysterious Press, former soldier Sean Tennant and his significant other Molly Winter are a couple living under the radar in Texas. One day while Molly is at a yoga retreat in Montana that allows no communication with the outside world (cell phones are confiscated), Sean is a shopping mall when Henry Alan Keen snaps and shoots everybody in sight. Before the body count can rise, Sean stops Keen and helps the shooting victims.
“I needed a protagonist who could play the role I needed him to play -- someone with the courage and skills you would need to foil a mass shooting -- so immediately I thought of making him a military man,” said Dolan. “That appealed to me because it was something I had never done before. My earlier protagonists were an amateur detective [David Loogan] and former police officer [Jack Pellum]. So I made Sean a veteran of the Iraq war, and there are flashbacks in the book to his time in Iraq. And I think that makes for a richer story.”
In the aftermath, Sean is declared a hero and his face is plastered all the evening news, both locally and nationally.
That’s the last thing Sean wants.
“The idea for the book came to me a couple years ago when I was reading about the mass shootings that were happening at the time, and -- of course --are still happening now," Dolan said. "The working title for the book was Good Guy With a Gun, and the idea was to write about someone who happened to be at the scene of a shooting and managed to stop it. And I knew that would be just the beginning of the story, the catalyst for what happened after because in the story I wanted to tell, the good guy with the gun would have his own secrets and his own troubles, and his act of heroism would leave him exposed to people from his past who wanted to find him.”
Enter Jimmy Harper, who blames Sean for the death of his brother. Once he sees the news reports, he goes after Sean. As a result, Sean is now on the run.
“I had to decide where he would go first,” said Dolan. “Sean knows his enemies will target [Molly], too, so he has to get to her [in Montana] before they do. And that gets the story moving along. But Molly grew a great deal from my original conception of her. She’s not a damsel in distress; she’s a protagonist in her own right. For much of the book, she and Sean are separated, and she has to survive on her own. And she rises to the challenge.
"One of the things I like best about writing is the way the characters develop seemingly on their own," Dolan continued. "This happened with Molly. … At the beginning, I had only the vaguest notion of who she was, [and] she developed into a formidable heroine. It happens with minor characters, too. Sometimes they take on a life of their own and demand a bigger role in the story. This happened with Nick Ensen, a shiftless 22-year-old who was originally meant to be a minor henchman. … Nick turned out to have hidden depths, and he ended up becoming something more than I had expected him to be.”
The nature of the story Dolan wanted to tell went a long way when determining the book’s settings. Sean and Molly have left their home in Michigan and live in Texas at the beginning. When Sean goes on the run with his enemies in hot pursuit, the chase goes from Texas to Montana to Tennessee to New York and finally to Michigan for the showdown.
Dolan compared and contrasted Sean to Loogan, his protagonist introduced in Bad Things Happen, his first novel that occurs in Ann Arbor.
“The one obvious similarity is both [protagonists] are living under assumed names and trying to escape their pasts. They’ve both suffered losses and they’ve both seen some dark things,” Dolan said. “I would say Sean is even more haunted than Loogan -- literally haunted by the memory of his best friend, Cole Harper. Cole has died, under circumstances that are revealed over the course of the book, and Sean blames himself for what happened. In a real sense, he carries Cole around with him; at times, he hears Cole’s voice and sees him out of the corner of his eye.”
Perhaps Dolan’s biggest challenge when writing The Good Killer was the ever-shifting perspectives of the characters.
“My previous novels tended to follow a pattern, with scenes from the point of view of the protagonist alternating with scenes from the point of view of the villain. In this novel, I have two protagonists: Sean and Molly,” he said. “I also have two sets of villains, who are frequently working at cross-purposes from each other. When you add in the Houston police detective who’s searching for Sean and Molly, I’ve got half a dozen viewpoint characters, which makes for an interesting juggling act. But I found that working with a cast of characters like this has its advantages. By cutting from the POV of one character to the POV of another, you can build suspense and drive the story forward.”
So far, The Good Killer has gotten rave reviews from The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press. Dolan’s novels have received praise from many several renowned New York Times best-selling authors, including Karin Slaughter, Nelson DeMille, Douglas Preston, James Patterson, and Stephen King.
“After the hardcover [of Bad Things Happen] came out, my agent, Victoria Skurnick, learned that Stephen King had read the book,” said Dolan. “My agent let King know that we would love to have a blurb from him, and a couple weeks later I received an email from the man himself. He called Bad Things Happen a ‘great f***ing book, man,’ and told me I’d probably have to clean that up before I used it. We wound up putting it on the cover of the paperback, with a few well-placed asterisks to make it decent.”
Kurt Anthony Krug is a journalist whose articles have appeared in the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, The Ann Arbor News, The Oakland Press, Dallas Morning News, USA Today, Reuters, among many other media outlets. In addition, he has taught journalism at Michigan State University. He received his bachelor's degree in journalism/public relations from MSU and his master's degree at Wayne State University. He lives just outside of Detroit.
Visit harrydolan.com for more information.