Book Review: The Man in the Crooked Hat by Harry Dolan

The Man in the Crooked Hat
Harry Dolan
Putnam, November 2017
ISBN 978-0-3991-8541-0
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Jack Pellum is a Detroit detective who left the force after his wife was murdered in a random attack.  But Jack never bought that theory, and the case was never solved.  Eighteen months later, Jack is working as a part-time private investigator while continuing the hunt for an elusive person of interest in his wife’s murder: a man in a fedora who Jack is convinced could break open the case.  When a local writer’s cryptic suicide note suggests the man in the fedora actually exists, Jack picks up the thread he’s certain will lead him to his wife’s killer. He never imagined it would also unravel twenty years of secrets and unsolved crimes or make him the target of a psychopath trying to erase his own past.

In the early pages of the book, Jack meets Paul Rook, 26 years old, whose mother was killed nine years earlier, and who shares a similar obsession, trying to find a man in a fedora who he thinks killed his mother.  When Jack asks him what he thinks the man’s motives are, the reply he receives is “’He kills people. He doesn’t have motives.’  He tells Paul that he has been doing his own sleuthing, and that he’s ‘found sightings of him.  Some of them go back years.  The earliest one I’ve found was twenty years ago.  It happened about thirty miles from here, in a town called Belleville. I think the man in the hat got his start there’ . . .   Paul had told him about more than a dozen murders – – each one with a witness who claimed to have seen a man in a hat. The sightings took place at different times, sometimes on the day of the murder, sometimes in the days before.  Never at the scene of the crime. ”  Jack then is told about another boy who was killed, about a month later, in a town six or seven miles from the scene of that murder.

Jack is relentless in his search, and at times I must admit it became a bit too much of a slog for this reader.  But the tension and the suspense mount, and almost before one realizes it one is caught up in the investigation almost as much as its protagonist.  In the very first pages of the book we meet Michael Underhill.  It is over 70 pages later before we meet him again.  But surprisingly, that doesn’t lessen the suspense.  Even when we learn “who,” the “how” and “why” are absorbing, and the resolution is very satisfying.  The novel is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2018.