In Harry Dolan's "Bad Things Happen," David Loogan is trying to stay under the radar because of something that happened in the past. He rents a house in Ann Arbor and takes a job as an editor for "Gray Streets," a mystery magazine. We do not know much about Loogan, except that he is nervous, afraid of the dark, and has a habit of looking over his shoulder. One day, a colleague asks him to commit a shocking crime and, for some reason, he complies. The plot thickens when the murdered bodies of people connected with "Gray Streets" start to pile up, and Loogan, among others, is a suspect. Yet, he goes ahead and makes another questionable decision--to solve the crimes himself, rather than rely on the police to identify the guilty party.
"Bad Things Happen" is at its best when Dolan goes for laughs. For instance, Tom Kristoll, the publisher of "Gray Streets," wryly states, "No one sets out to be an editor. It's something that happens to you, like jaundice or falling down a well." A woman named Bridget makes fun of the contrivances that writers rely on to move their stories along: "It's a cliché...a murder staged to look like a suicide. Every mystery writer uses it sooner or later. I used it in my second book." More of this tongue-in-cheek bantering would have been invigorating.
The author presents a baffling series of events that leave us almost completely in the dark. A sharp detective named Elizabeth Waishkey attempts to find out who committed the aforementioned murders. Liz empathizes with David but is extremely irritated when he starts his own investigation, putting himself at risk and interfering with her efforts. David's personality is not well delineated; his behavior runs the gamut from shrewd to incredibly stupid. In fact, with a few exceptions, the large cast of characters consists of self-centered and grating individuals. The second half of the book goes straight downhill; the plot becomes so convoluted that we need a scorecard to keep track of the proceedings. Although the author is obviously satirizing ridiculous works of fiction in which authors throw in everything but the kitchen sink, the twists and turns are more annoying than amusing. First, Dolan tries to convince us that Scenario A is true; later, he substitutes Scenario B for Scenario A. Just when you think that everything has been explained, along comes Scenario C. By the time the good guys are sorted out from the bad guys and the deep dark secrets are revealed, readers will be more exhausted than exhilarated. "Bad Things Happen" would have been much better had it been less heavy-handed and more cohesive.