Summary and book reviews of The Fifth Floor by Michael Harvey

The Fifth Floor

By Michael Harvey

The Fifth Floor
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2008,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2009,
    288 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Allison Stadd

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About this Book

Book Summary

Michael Harvey’s sizzling follow-up to The Chicago Way (“A magnificent debut that should be read by all”—John Grisham; “This book heralds the arrival of a major new voice”—Michael Connelly) opens with a murder in contemporary Chicago and winds its way back to Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

When PI Michael Kelly is hired by an ex-flame to tail her abusive husband, he expects trouble of a domestic rather than a historical nature. Life, however, is not so simple. The tail leads Kelly to an old house on Chicago’s North Side. Inside it, the private investigator finds a body and, perhaps, the answer to one of Chicago’s most enduring mysteries: who started the Great Chicago Fire and why. The ensuing investigation takes Kelly to places he’d rather not go, specifically, City Hall’s fifth floor, where the mayor is feeling the heat and looking to play for keeps. Ultimately, Kelly finds himself in a world where nothing is quite what it seems, face-to-face with a killer bent on rewriting history and staring down demons from a past he never knew he had.

A fast-stepping, intricately woven narrative, rich with the history and atmosphere of a great city, The Fifth Floor is a worthy successor to Harvey’s critically acclaimed debut.

CHAPTER 1

I pushed the slim volume of poetry across my desk and into her lap. The woman with auburn hair, perfect posture, and a broken life picked it up.

"I can't read this," she said, and lifted her head.

"That's because it's in Latin," I said. "Why don't you take off the sunglasses?"

"Why don't you translate for me?"

"Take off the glasses."

The woman slid the dark frames up and off her face. Her left eye was brown and watering. Her right was black and swollen shut. The cheekbone below it offered a study in shades of purple, blue, and yellow.

"You get the picture?" she said.

"The poem is by Catullus. First line reads Odi et amo. Translates as I hate and I love."

"And this is my life?"

"People say it's a love poem, but they're wrong. It's about abuse, about not being able to get out, even when the door is wide open and the whole world is yelling that very thing in your ear."

"I can't just leave. It's not that simple."

"It never is. Let me ask you something. How do you ...

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Reviews

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No part of the book feels unrealistic, a bold evaluation considering the breadth of drama protagonist Michael Kelly finds himself mired in: romantic turmoil, witness of two murders (one of which he becomes the suspect of), and political controversy stretching backwards several generations and forwards into the city's future. In fact, this latter issue feels particularly relevant as Harvey pits an old-hat white politician against a less experienced, younger black one.

There is something in The Fifth Floor for every type of reader, and few should miss out on its fast-paced, unwittingly educational thrill ride.   (Reviewed by Allison Stadd).

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Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Dry wit, delectable clues and tricky leads hallmark this trenchant tale of the Windy City.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Harvey's plot twists in all the right places, and his noir-inspired dialogue crackles without sounding showy. Marlowe and Spade would readily welcome Michael Kelly into their fold.

Author Blurb John Grisham
Michael Harvey is a magnificent new voice.

Author Blurb Eric Larson
In The Fifth Floor, Michael Harvey gives us a tale of murder, bare-knuckle mayoral politics, and historical catastrophe–in short, the perfect Chicago detective story, complete with a loving tour of the city’s funkier locales that’ll make any displaced Chicagoan long for home.

Reader Reviews
Joe Lake

The Fifth Floor by Michael Harvey
Read straight through in eight hours. Since I know many of the places mentioned in the book, I could relate very rapidly to the plot. Now someone must write, "The Fifth Floor,"--only make it non-fiction. Joe Lake, Chicago (Bucktown)

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The Great Chicago Fire burned from about 9pm on October 8th to early on the 10th, 1871. The source of the blaze is unknown; for many years it was believed that the fire was caused by a cow kicking over a lantern, but more than twenty years after the fact the reporter responsible for first publishing this story admitted that he'd made it up.

Although the number of lives lost was relatively low considering the extent of the fire (about 200-300 people), the fire is still remembered today, partially because of the extent of the damage (about four square miles of the mainly wooden city were destroyed), but mainly as the catalyst for the city's subsequent growth into one of the most economically important and populous ...

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