Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Third Rail, by Michael Harvey (hardcover, $24.95)

It's unusual for an author to share the same name as his character, but Michael Kelly, private investigator and former Chicago cop, is the compelling creation of author Michael Harvey.

I loved the first book in the series, the sad and surprising The Chicago Way. The second book, The Fifth Floor, I thought was less gripping, the center of the story a "huh?" to us non-Chicagoans, but I liked it. The Third Rail is both a page-turner and another history lesson of Chicago. There are quite a few Chicago writers (Sean Chercover, Marcus Sakey, Charlie Newton, Sara Paretsky) and they strive to incorporate the essence of their city in their stories. (Another favorite, Jim Butcher, doesn't live in Chicago, but the city is an essential ingredient in his Dresden books.)

In an adrenalin-popping start, a man goes up to a woman who is waiting for the "L," the elevated railway thousands of Chicago commuters use, and shoots her dead. Then a sniper shoots a commuter on another L train. Michael Kelly witnesses the first shooting and is soon involved in the second. It becomes obvious that Michael Kelly has something to do with what is motivating the shooter or shooters. But what? It is a convoluted path that leads to the convoluted and fantastic ending – maybe a little too fantastic, eh? – but the journey is fascinating. Like Michael Connelly, Michael Harvey is a great storyteller. Connelly's Scarecrow was very far-fetched, as is The Third Rail, but that's okay, I say, because I found myself nodding along with every strange turn the story took. Lethal lightbulbs? Sure. Decades-old grudges? Sure. Catholic church misdeeds? Absolutely.

What I loved about the first book was the very human story at the heart of The Chicago Way. There is a very human story about Kelly's father at the base of this work as well, but it is buried under special effects. Reader, when you learn what it is, pause and give it its due before heading back into the fray.

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