Jack Pellum is a former police detective in Michigan whose life was shattered when his wife, Olivia, was murdered 18 months earlier.
Since then he’s been posting flyers around town that ask whether anyone has seen a man in a crooked hat, a stranger Pellum spotted in his neighborhood shortly before his wife’s death. The sighting happened at night from a distance, and that description is about all he has. Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t yielded useful leads.
But after a local author commits suicide and leaves behind a cryptic note about a man in a crooked hat, someone contacts Pellum with new information.
The caller claims not only to have seen the hatted man when his own mother was killed years earlier, but also to have files of other cases, dating back 20 years, in which witnesses reported seeing a similar man before someone died mysteriously. Pellum embarks on a mission to determine if the cases are related and finally to avenge his wife’s death.
Though Pellum’s search takes him a while, readers know right away who Harry Dolan’s The Man in the Crooked Hat is—he’s identified in the very first sentence.
It’s the mark of a confident author who believes he doesn’t need to withhold the murderer’s identity to engage his readers, and Dolan is right. The surprises lie in how Pellum catches up to the killer, the humane portrait of a man who’s committed horrific acts, and in characters coming out the other side of grief to find they’re still capable of hope.
This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission. It contains an affiliate link that could generate a small commission for PCN if used.