This second novel from the author of the acclaimed Bad Things Happen, his writing debut, has no ‘sophomore book’ problems. Very Bad Men immediately engages the reader, and one is quickly drawn into this compelling tale of murder, specifically, the murder of two men who were part of a bank robbery seventeen years ago, and the attempted murder of a third. All three men had been convicted, and served jail time of varying lengths. But what could be the motive? These three men had not seen nor contacted one another in all the intervening years. And the killer – for his identity is quickly revealed – is not a cool, professional hit man; that is immediately made clear.
David Loogan, the editor-in-chief of a mystery magazine, receives, in a plain, unmarked envelope, what at first glance appears to be a manuscript, only several pages long, bearing no signature, the first line of which reads “I killed Henry Kormoran .Loogan,” who lives with his ‘significant other,’ Elizabeth Waishkey, an Ann Arbor, Michigan, detective, and her precocious 16-year-old daughter, ultimately begins a kind of parallel and unofficial investigation.
Each character in the novel is wonderfully well-drawn. These include the killer, who suffers from synesthesia, a rare affliction which results in a confusion of the senses, with words taking on dimensions far beyond their ‘normal’ printed appearance, according to his emotional reaction to them; Lucy Navarro, a young and rather endearing reporter, who comes up with a bizarre theory of the motive for the crimes; assorted politicians and their ‘handlers, among others. The writer invokes some wildly disparate images: Occam and his razor, Aristotle, jazz musician Charlie Parker; mystery authors Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly; and a theme: “We all want to be known. To be seen for who we really are.” There are carefully placed, and easily missed clues, and startling and unexpected twists in this rather complex and engrossing novel, which is recommended.
Reviewer: Gloria Feit