Review: The Man in the Crooked Hat by Harry Dolan

The Man in the Crooked Hat by Harry Dolan follows a desperate ex-cop who chases one cryptic clue into a labyrinthine puzzle of murder that might lead to answers about the person who killed his wife (available November 28, 2017).

Have you ever started a book and just knew it was going to be really, really good? That’s what happened with this one. Harry Dolan instantly sets up a creepy vibe as the killer is revealed right up front—or so we’re led to believe. Dolan strongly suggests that Michael Underhill is the man with an evil plan, and the book begins with him talking quite casually to a woman by a river—a woman who we discover by chapter’s end isn’t alive.

Is this the man in the crooked hat that Jack Pellum is convinced killed his wife, Olivia? Jack is a former Detroit cop who quit over a year ago when Olivia was strangled to death. Jack’s father is determined to set him up as a PI, but Jack isn’t interested in PI work; he’s interested in finding his wife’s killer. Distributing fliers with a sketch of the behatted man in question is only one of his methods. He’s also had a bit of help from his old partner, Carl, who he rode with for five years—but that’s about to come to an end.

Carl Dumisani put his mug down and said, “We’re back to the flyers again, Pellum?”

They were on the table next to Jack’s phone.

“I guess we are,” he said.

“Thought you were gonna stop.”

“I did. Held out for about three weeks.”

“I guess that’s better than some people do.” Carl reached over and took one from the top of the stack. “Honest to god, you might as well put up a sign that says, You ever seen a white man in a hat? See if that works.”

“There’s an idea.”

“Seriously, you ever get anything off these?”

“Not yet.”

“Maybe that’s ‘cause there’s nothing to get.” Carl put the flyer back. “This can’t go on, Pellum.”

“Don’t try to fix me, Carl.”

“I wouldn’t. You’re my boy, you know that. Even when you’re broken. But it’s not up to me.” He had a deep voice, and Jack could hear the regret in it. “You go on as long as you want,” Carl said. “I won’t stop you. But you and me, meeting like this, it has to end. The word has come down.”

Carl goes on to explain that the powers that be won’t let him help Jack anymore, but he does have some new info. A few new homicides aren’t news, but oddly, it’s a suicide that got Carl’s attention. A man named Danny Cavanaugh hanged himself and left a note on his wall that said, “There’s a killer, and he wears a crooked hat.”

Jack is immediately intrigued, and he finds out that Danny isn’t the only one in his family that met with a bad end. A man named Paul Rook contacts Jack, claiming to have info on Jack’s mysterious man in the hat. Paul’s mother was killed, and he remembers seeing a man in a fedora near the scene of the crime.

And there’s more:

“You don’t get anywhere looking for threads. But if you look for him, if you’re patient, you can find him. People see him. He’s there, on the edges of things. He plans, he watches. That’s when you have a chance to get a glimpse of him. I’ve looked at cases, unsolved murders, all around southeast Michigan, and I’ve found sightings of him. Some of them go back years. The earliest one I’ve found was twenty years go. It happened about thirty miles from here, in a town called Belleville. I think the man in the hat got his start there. The victim was a high school student, a seventeen-year-old boy.”

Paul stood over the files. Tense. Waiting. Jack asked him the obvious question, the one he was waiting for.

“What was the victim’s name?”

“Alex Cavanaugh,” Paul said. “He was Danny Cavanaugh’s brother.”

Jack is a picture of melancholy, and he is on a single-minded search for a man that seems more than human. Dolan’s narrative reads almost like an urban myth come to life, and the end result is eerie and affecting.

Dolan is a fantastic stylist, adding an almost old-fashioned noir feel to a contemporary thriller. I suppose it doesn’t hurt that the man Jack is looking for wears a fedora, bringing to mind the best black and white thrillers of old. Surprising and frequently terrifying, you won’t be able to put this one down. This is the first book I’ve read by Harry Dolan, and it certainly won’t be my last.


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Kristin Centorcelli reviews books at, loves a good mystery, and is a huge fan of boxed wine. You can also follow her at @mybookishways.

Read all posts by Kristin Centorcelli for Criminal Element.


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