1:24am

Mon August 27, 2012
Crime In The City

Michigan Author Dreams Up A Deadlier Ann Arbor

Originally published on Mon August 27, 2012 9:32 pm

Ask Harry Dolan to take you for lunch at a restaurant he's written about, and he won't disappoint. In downtown Ann Arbor, Mich., on Liberty Street, the vegetarian restaurant Seva serves mushroom sliders and yam fries that both the crime writer and his characters are quite fond of. With any luck, you'll also catch the perfect song playing in the background — "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads.

Dolan's David Loogan crime series follows the editor of a mystery magazine who's always finding trouble. He says he wanted a thoughtful, intriguing place to set his stories, and Ann Arbor, a university town of about 100,000, was a perfect fit.

Finding A Reluctant Hero

A few blocks down Liberty, a writer's landmark stands empty.

"This is the flagship store of the Borders book chain, which originated here in Ann Arbor," Dolan says. "They went out of business last year."

Dolan had his first-ever reading at this store, when his first Loogan novel, Bad Things Happen, came out in 2009. To say he was excited would be an understatement.

"Oh, yeah," he says, laughing. "I remember coming here and seeing a picture of the book in the window, a big poster advertising it."

Dolan had spent a lot of time in the store's crime fiction section. He bought some books and looked through others in an effort to learn structure and how to develop characters. One of the biggest takeaways, he says, was recognizing the need for a reluctant hero. Dolan's turned out to be Loogan.

Murder In A Peaceful City

"David Loogan is 39 years old, about 6 feet tall," Dolan says. "He has copper-colored hair, and Elizabeth thinks he has an interesting mouth."

Elizabeth is Loogan's sidekick. By the second book, Very Bad Men, they're living together. It's convenient that she's a detective with the Ann Arbor Police Department — a detective who, in fiction at least, sees a lot of action.

"I remember a reviewer of the first book that I published, Bad Things Happen, counted up the number of murders in the book, and it came out to eight or nine, and that's over a period of a month or so," Dolan says.

The real Ann Arbor doesn't see nearly that many murders. Rich Kinsey, a retired Ann Arbor detective who spent 13 years on the homicide squad, says the city is pretty safe, but it can be dangerous. Serial killers have come to town. After all, Kinsey says, there are plenty of pretty young girls walking around. He says the murders that do happen in Ann Arbor can be especially brutal.

"We had a guy, he had killed his ex-girlfriend and placed her in a deep freeze," Kinsey recalls, "and then brought the [freezer] to his new girlfriend's house [and] put it in the basement."

The Charm Of A College Town

Anyone who went to school in Ann Arbor is well acquainted with the sound of the Burton Memorial Tower's carillon bells, which can be heard from the streets of downtown. The University of Michigan's central campus stretches out to the south and to the east of the bell tower.

Thirteen years ago, Dolan moved to Ann Arbor from Ohio. He wanted a big university town — an intellectual, artistic community. He'd decided to become a writer, and these were the people who would appear in — and hopefully also buy — his books.

Driving past the football stadium, or The Big House, and out onto South State Street, Dolan stops at an apartment complex.

"This is building 650 right here, which is where I lived when I first moved to Ann Arbor," he says. "I had a basement apartment in the back of the building."

Dolan's first apartment had almost zero natural light and bare concrete walls. It became the setting in his latest book for a bloody battle between three desperate men that ends with someone getting impaled on a tire iron. It's one of the most violent scenes Dolan has written.

The Man Who Brings A Knife To A Gun Fight

A mile or so farther down South State Street, there's a hotel parking lot where Dolan's protagonist, Loogan, gets shot in the stomach. Very Bad Men includes a caution about parking lots and how dangerous they can be:

"If someone comes knocking on your door and he seems a little off, if he's ill-groomed and shabbily dressed, you can refuse to let him in. If he hangs around, you can call the police. But if you see the same guy in a parking lot, you're out of luck. There's nothing to be done."

In this particular encounter, Loogan has only a Boy Scout knife to defend himself with — he has literally brought a knife to a gun fight.

"David is a magazine editor, and he's not used to going around carrying guns," Dolan says. "He actually has to borrow a gun from a friend in the book. He doesn't own a gun. He's not a cop; he's not a detective. He's not expecting to find himself in trouble."

Loogan works in an old-fashioned kind of private eye's office, with a frosted-glass door and a bottle of Scotch in a bottom drawer. He's the editor of a mystery magazine, but a knock on the door often means trouble, and it's never long before Loogan launches off along complex plot lines that only come together when Dolan wants them to.

Exploring 'Secret Pockets' Of Ann Arbor

Back on the street, not far from that fictional office, Adrienne Berry, a saxophone player and former union organizer, considers the question of whether Ann Arbor even needs its own crime series. She decides that it does.

"I think there's a lot of interesting people here and a lot of interesting history and a lot of great inspiration that a lot of people use in writing or in music or in art," she says. "There's something really fun and exciting about kind of peeking into different secret pockets of people's lives that exist within the same place that you're in."

And after two novels, Dolan is still peeking into those secret pockets — his third Ann Arbor book, The Girl in the Rain, is due out next summer.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Our summertime series Crime in City comes to an end this morning with a visit to a city where there's not much crime. The writer Harry Dolan was looking for a place with an artistic vibe as the setting for his stories about the editor of a mystery magazine who always seems to be finding trouble. Dolan chose Ann Arbor, Michigan, a university town of about a hundred thousand people.

NPR's Noah Adams went to meet the author of books "Bad Things Happen" and "Very Bad Men."

NOAH ADAMS, BYLINE: So you go to Ann Arbor and you say to the guy, let's have lunch at a place that you've written about. Harry Dolan, he's pleased by that.

HARRY DOLAN: We are in the Seva Restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor on Liberty Street.

ADAMS: What kind of place?

DOLAN: Vegetarian restaurant.

ADAMS: In your book?

DOLAN: In the book it's the favorite restaurant of Senator John Casterbridge, who eats here all the time when he's in Ann Arbor.

ADAMS: Good guy or bad guy?

DOLAN: I can't say that. That would be giving it away.

ADAMS: A couple of blocks down the street, there's a writer's landmark standing empty. No one yet wants to lease it. It was the Borders hometown bookstore.

DOLAN: This is the flagship store of the Borders book chain, which originated here in Ann Arbor. They went out of business last year.

ADAMS: Harry Dolan had his first-ever reading at this store, when the novel "Bad Things Happen" came out.

Were you excited?

DOLAN: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

I remember coming here and seeing a picture of the book in the window, a big poster advertising it.

ADAMS: Harry Dolan had spent a lot of time in Borders. He bought crime fiction books, looked through lots of others, trying to learn structure, how to develop characters. To begin with, you must create a reluctant hero. His name turned out to be David Loogan.

DOLAN: David Loogan is 39 years old, about six feet tall, copper-colored hair, and Elizabeth thinks he has an interesting mouth.

ADAMS: Elizabeth is Loogan's sidekick. By the second book, they're living together. It's convenient that she's a detective with the Ann Arbor police. A detective who in fiction sees a lot of action.

DOLAN: I remember a reviewer of the book, the first book that I published, "Bad Things Happen," counted up the number of murders in the book and it came out to eight or nine.

(LAUGHTER)

DOLAN: And that's over a period of a month or so.

RICH KINSEY: Homicide-wise, Ann Arbor has maybe one or two a year.

ADAMS: Rich Kinsey is a real retired Ann Arbor detective. He spent 13 years on the homicide squad.

KINSEY: The last three years after I retired there, there wasn't one up until a few months ago.

ADAMS: Rich Kinsey says Ann Arbor is safe but always could be dangerous. Serial killers have come to town. Plenty of pretty young girls, Kinsey says, walking around. And murders that do happen can be especially brutal.

KINSEY: We had a guy, he had killed his ex-girlfriend and placed her in a deep freeze and then brought the deep freeze to his new girlfriend's house, put it in the basement with the doors against the wall.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS)

ADAMS: If you went to college in Ann Arbor, you'll know this sound, the carillon in the Bell Tower. Visit the writer Harry Dolan, you'll get to hear it.

DOLAN: This is downtown Ann Arbor. To the south here is the campus of the University of Michigan, the central campus, to the south and to the east.

ADAMS: Thirteen years ago Harry Dolan moved to Ann Arbor from Ohio. He wanted a big university town, an intellectual, artistic community. He had decided to become a writer, and these would be the people who would be in his books and who would buy his books.

(SOUNDBITE OF VEHICLE)

ADAMS: We drive on past the football stadium - the Big House, they call I - and then out South State Street to an apartment complex that now could be seen in quite a sinister light.

DOLAN: This is Building 650 right here, which is where I lived when I first moved to Ann Arbor, and I had a basement apartment in the back of the building.

ADAMS: Harry Dolan's first apartment had almost zero daylight. Bare concrete walls. It became the setting in his latest book for a bloody battle between three desperate men.

Is it fair to say the most violent scene you've ever written took place right here?

DOLAN: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I mean I absolutely had this particular apartment in mind. There's a very violent scene that takes place which involves an impalement on a tire iron.

ADAMS: A mile or so farther along South State, there's a hotel parking lot where Harry Dolan's protagonist, David Loogan, gets shot in the stomach. There is a caution in the book "Very Bad Men": Parking lots are dangerous places.

DOLAN: If someone comes knocking on your door and he seems a little off, if he's ill-groomed and shabbily dressed, you can refuse to let him in. If he hangs around, you can call the police. But if you see the same guy in a parking lot, you're out of luck. There's nothing to be done.

ADAMS: And this problem - David Loogan has only a Boy Scout knife for a weapon. In the parking lot, he has indeed brought a knife to a gunfight.

DOLAN: David is a magazine editor and he's not used to going around carrying guns, basically. He actually has to borrow a gun from a friend. In the book he doesn't own a gun. He's not a cop. He's not a detective. He's not expecting to find himself in trouble.

ADAMS: The editor David Loogan works in an old fashioned kind of private eye's office - a door with frosted glass, a bottle of Scotch in the bottom drawer. He's the editor of a mystery magazine. A knock on the door often means trouble, and he'll soon be off along very complex plot lines. They come together when the writer Harry Dolan wants them to.

Out on the street, close by that fictional office, Adrienne Berry - saxophone player, former union organizer - answers my woman on a bench question: Does Ann Arbor need to have its own crime series?

ADRIENNE BERRY: Yeah, I think it does. I think there's a lot of interesting people here and a lot of interesting history and a lot of great inspiration that a lot of people use in writing or in music or in art. There's something really fun and exciting about kind of peeking into like different secret pockets of people's lives that exist within the same place that you're in.

(LAUGHTER)

ADAMS: The crime writer Harry Dolan has two books out so far, continues to peek into secret pockets. His third Ann Arbor book is due next summer. It's called "The Girl in the Rain."

Noah Adams, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: And you can peek into those secret pockets yourself. Look for photos and excerpts from Harry Dolan's books at NPR. org.

Eric Westervelt took us to Norway. Renee Montagne took us to Honolulu. It's been our series Crime in the City, and you can meet the fictional detectives we featured at our website, NPR.org.

This MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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