Readers will be surprised to find that this is only the second
novel published by Michael Harvey. His prose clever and biting, his plot
churning with twists and loops that keep the pages flipping by, Harvey's modern
day thriller truly keeps readers on the edges of their seats. The mystery of the
1871 Chicago fire is stirring enough to pique the interest of even the least
historically inclined person; Harvey here manages, through obviously
comprehensive research and personal thought and reflection on the subject, to
fan even such ages-old flames until the narrative is ablaze with energy and
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.
Harvey's note appended to the book is, sadly, a disclaimer avowing that historians generally agree upon the accidental nature of the Great Chicago Fire, lending an entirely fictional air to Kelly and his castmates' exploits in probing the morally and legally rotten plotting of the catastrophe. But that doesn't detract from the fascinating portrait Harvey paints of the city of Chicago, and the equally vivid interpersonal relationships between each of the novel's characters, no small feat for a rookie mystery writer.
There is something in The Fifth Floor for every type of reader, and few should miss out on its fast-paced, surprisingly educational thrill ride.
About the Author
Michael Harvey is the creator, writer, and executive producer of the television series Cold Case Files, an A&E production examining the Chicago underworld so alive in The Fifth Floor. He received an Academy Award-nomination for his documentary Eyewitness, and is a former investigative reporter for CBS. He earned a law degree at Duke and a masters in journalism from Northwestern.
His first novel, The Chicago Way (2007) introduced PI Michael Kelly and it was not long before people, including his own family, were asking whether Michael Kelly was a literary version of Michael Harvey? Both Michaels are interested in classical languages (namely Latin and Greek). Moreover, while the author is not a private detective, he does have years of experience under his belt on the crime enforcement scene. Harvey also owns a bar in Chicago, The Hidden Shamrock, along with some of his college buddies, drawing a parallel with Kelly's seemingly perpetual existence in some alcohol venue or another throughout the book. Regardless of whether or not Kelly is modeled on his creator, it would be a treat to make the acquaintance of either man. Read more about Michael Harvey in the Q&A at BookBrowse.
Coming Soon: Knopf will publish The Third Rail in April 2010.
This review was originally published in September 2008, and has been updated for the July 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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