Harry Dolan Signs Latest Novel at Schuler Books

Taking many walks in the woods inspired author Harry Dolan to write his latest mystery-thriller. 

“The germ of the idea I had for ‘Don’t Turn Around’ (Atlantic Monthly Press $27) was a young girl who climbs out her bedroom window one night to go exploring in the woods near her house and stumbles across the body of a young college student – the victim of a serial killer known as Merkury. That became the opening scene of the novel, and the young girl became my protagonist, Kate Summerlin. The idea that immediately followed was: What if the killer was lingering in the woods? What if Kate encountered him? What if he spoke to her? How would this impact the rest of her life?” he explained. 

Dolan will sign copies of “Don’t Turn Around,” his sixth novel, at Schuler Books in the Westgate Shopping Center, located at 2513 Jackson Ave. in Ann Arbor, on Thursday, April 11, at 6:30 p.m.

“I’m grateful to Schuler Books for hosting a reading/discussion/signing in their Ann Arbor store,” he said. “I’ve been doing readings there for the past several books I’ve published, starting back when the store was known as Nicola’s. In my experience, the store always draws a friendly and receptive crowd.”

A native of Rome, NY currently living in Ann Arbor, Dolan has an undergraduate degree from Colgate University in Hamilton, NY and a graduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – both in philosophy.

“Don’t Turn Around” is set in upstate New York, where Dolan was born and raised. Specifically, it’s set at Seagate College in the small town of Alexander, NY, which is a fictionalized version of Colgate and Hamilton. 

“I wanted a small-town setting in part for its remoteness; there’s something especially eerie about the woods and backroads that surround a small town,” explained Dolan. “There’s a sense of isolation – a feeling that you’re on your own and if something goes wrong, there’s probably no one coming to help.”

In “Don’t Turn Around,” Merkury has struck again after a long time, killing a student at Seagate. Kate, now 29 and a true crime writer, goes to Seagate to investigate. As much as she doesn’t want to get involved, she can’t help herself. 

“The character of Kate came to me before anything else in the novel, before any of the plot or the mystery or the twists. We see her first at 11, finding the body of one of Merkury’s victims in the woods. Then we see her next at 29 as a successful true crime writer,” he said. “She has a kind of unwanted fame among true crime junkies: She’s the girl who met a serial killer and lived. She’s uncomfortable with people knowing her this way, which is why she has never written about her own experience. The true crime books that she writes are always about cases unrelated to her own. But, of course, that can’t last. She gets drawn back into Merkury’s story when he kills another college student in the same small town where Kate grew up. And she feels compelled to go back there. Merkury is a presence in her life that she can’t ignore forever.”

Photo of Harry Dolan by Philip Dattilo.
Photo of Harry Dolan by Philip Dattilo.

Dolan spoke about how Kate is different than his other protagonists, particularly David Loogan, the star of three of Dolan’s novels. 

“One difference is that there are flashback scenes to Kate’s childhood,” he said. “You see her when she was 11 and you learn how her encounter with the killer Merkury has affected her. I never really explored David Loogan’s childhood or the childhood of any of my other protagonists. I found that the key to Kate’s character is that she believes, deep down, that she’s not normal, not like other people, because of what happened to her as a child. This keeps her at a distance from other people because she doesn’t want them to realize she’s not normal.” 

The dynamic about Kate and Merkury is unlike anything Dolan’s written before.

“Over the course of the novel, I return again and again to the initial encounter between 11-year-old Kate and Merkury. Each time you get a fuller picture of what happened and what they said to each other on the night they met,” he said. “But even beyond that, I reveal that Merkury has kept in touch with Kate over the years, sending her text messages on throwaway cellphones at crucial times in her life. So when Kate finally meets Merkury again at the climax of the book, there’s a relationship between them, a dynamic that’s been established. And that affects the resolution of their story.”

“Don’t Turn Around” went through more revisions than any of Dolan’s other novels. When he first turned it, his editor suggested streamlining the story, leading him to cut several characters and simplify some elements of the plot. According to the author, it’s tricky to do something like that seamlessly because the different parts of a novel are all connected to each other, and changes in one chapter can have an impact throughout the narrative. That said, it all came together in end. 

“I really enjoyed writing the action sequences in this book,” he said. “There’s a set-piece midway through the novel that I’m proud of, and then there’s the final confrontation between Kate and the killer, which unfolds over several short, fast-moving chapters and – I hope – brings the book to a satisfying conclusion.”

Visit harrydolan.com. For questions or more information about Dolan’s April 11 book signing, contact Schuler at (734) 662-0600.

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