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Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Chicago Way (trade, $13.95), by Michael Harvey

There must be something in the Chicago water. Something that would cause the recent proliferation of good mystery novels set in Chicago: Calumet City by Charlie Newton; Big City, Bad Blood by Sean Chercover; At the City's Edge by Marcus Sakey, to mention a few I've read lately. The Chicago Way joins this interesting list. Each is stylish in its own way. Chercover adopts a traditional hard-boiled attitude. Newton has a female cop with past issues. Sakey has a hard-edged thriller novel.

Michael Harvey's character, private detective Michael Kelly, is very much a denizen of Chicago. Recognizable local areas and landmarks are inserted at every possible opportunity and lend authenticity to the story. If I had to compare him to some other writer, I would choose Lehane in how Harvey's story has heart and a history between its characters that is only slowly revealed.

The talk is snappy; the backtalk is snappy. The writing is stylish and solid. For instance: "I grew up in a hard sort of Irish way. On the city's west side. My mother drank tea, ironed a lot of clothes, and tried to stay out of the way. My father worked three jobs and dragged home $8,500 a year, kicking and screaming. He drank enough to hover between black silence and pure rage. "

Former police officer Kelly is hired by his ex-partner to investigate the long-ago stabbing of a young woman by a serial killer. Kelly's ex-partner had been the police officer who caught the case. He was astounded to find the woman had survived and was now asking him for help in finding her attacker. When Kelly's ex-partner dies, the mystery deepens. Was his death related to the old case? What does the convicted serial killer, who was incarcerated at the time of his death, have to do with the crime? Memories from Kelly's own buried past involving his best friend, Nicole, a state forensics evidence examiner, resurface as he pursues the cold case. Harvey ties all the threads together in a surprise-filled plot. Whenever I think I've seen all the possible plot angles, along comes a book like this.

There is comedy and there is tragedy, both served up The Chicago Way.

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