Book Review: Don’t Turn Around by Harry Dolan

In Harry Dolan's thriller, Don't Turn Around, Kate Summerlin stumbled upon the scene of a murder in the woods when she was a child. Years later, as an adult and a true-crime writer, Kate is drawn back to the still-unsolved murder case she remembers from her childhood as the case suddenly continues to develop. Read our review below!

Harry Dolan is a critically acclaimed author of series and standalone suspense. His David Loogan saga is comprised of Bad Things Happen, Very Bad Men, and The Last Dead Girl; his singular works include The Man in the Crooked Hat and The Good Killer. Born in Rome, New York, he majored in philosophy at Colgate University and studied fiction with prodigious novelist Frederick Busch. Dolan now makes his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His newest novel is April’s Don’t Turn Around

Then: Eleven-year-old Kate Summerlin snuck out of her bedroom window for a nighttime walk under the springtime stars. Seeking the solace of nature—the murmuring of the stream and the chirping of the crickets—to quell her restlessness, she instead comes across an unfathomable sight under the limbs of an oak tree: the body of a college student, unmoving. Then, the light of the moon illuminates a single word that’s been written across the young woman’s stomach in red: MERKURY. The reverie of this defining moment is broken only by the sound of rustling as the killer emerges from the shadows to utter a cautionary phrase: “Don’t turn around.” 

Eighteen years later: Kate—who left behind a college town in upstate New York for the seclusion of rural Ohio—writes true crime but is struggling to come up with a third book after her second failed to live up to the success of her first. Then, she is drawn back to her hometown after the enigmatic killer known as Merkury strikes again—a story her literary agent thinks she’s uniquely qualified to tell. But returning to the scene of the crime also means living under her father’s roof, and finally confronting the dark truths she’s tried to leave there. As the body count escalates and suspicions grow, Merkury begins communicating with Kate directly, hinting at a connection that dates back to her childhood.

Dolan uses multiple perspectives to tell his tale, which expands the scope of the story beyond Kate while still maintaining a sense of closeness with her as its focal point. She finds an unlikely ally in podcaster Lee Tennick (now living on her father’s property after having cast suspicion on him during the initial investigation), who has an inside source at the local police department. As Kate insinuates herself into the case and the lives of the players, she finds that her involvement, well-intended as it may be, has unexpected—and sometimes deadly—consequences. Further, secrets from long ago that somehow relate to Merkury threaten what little stability (and safety) she has left.

Don’t Turn Around is one of those books you can’t quite put down. Harry Dolan manages to pull off some truly surprising revelations as the story twists and turns to its dramatic and seemingly inevitable conclusion. While Kate’s impulsivity and self-destructive tendencies can be off-putting at times (in fiction as in life!), her more redeeming qualities—such as a burgeoning desire for the unfettered truth, regardless of the cost—are ultimately sustaining. The eventual confrontation with her boogeyman (boogeymen?), then, is the redefining moment of her life, even as she stares death in the face. This is a solid, suspenseful thriller that demands heads-down until the last page is turned.

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