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The Chicago Way by Michael Harvey

Publisher: Knopf  ISBN-10: 0307266869

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

The Chicago Way is a sincere homage to the pulp stories in which American crime fiction made its bones. Author Michael Harvey, a former investigative producer and co-creator of Cold Case Files, knows his material and keeps things moving at a pace that would make an old pulp writer proud.

Michael Kelly is a Chicago private investigator, a former crackerjack CPD detective railroaded out of a job by a shady district attorney. Heís less than thrilled to be asked by old partner John Gibbons to help with a case, but feels obligated when Gibbons is shot to death. A feeble frame points to Kelly.

Elaine Remington was savagely raped and almost killed nine years ago; Gibbons was her savior, and arresting officer of the rapist. The ball was dropped at every level. The rapist never faced charges, the police files are missing, and many of those associated with the case have since turned up dead.

Kelly is pulled deeper into the case by Diane Lindsey, a local television reporter whose shelf life is growing short and needs a big scoop to keep from having to return to Flint, Michigan to cover consumer affairs. His investigation is aided by a boyhood friend, Nicole, who works in the crime lab and fast tracks some DNA tests on the garment Elaine was wearing the night of the rape. 

Harvey uses his noir chops and television background everywhere it will help move things along. Maybe too much. The pulpy wording seems labored at times, fighting against the TV producerís desire to keep things slick and snappy. The phrasing sometimes comes across as anachronistic in the context of the modern technology used to close the case.

There are also a few convenient plot occurrences that work well in a forty-eight minute television show, but not so well when thereís time for some thought. Nothing that rises to the level of deal breaker, but a few people show up at just the right place to say the most telling thing at the most convenient time. In keeping with the times, Kelly can, of course, get DNA tests done in a couple of days, at no apparent cost. Things like this keep the book from fulfilling its early promise to a close reader.

Thereís still a lot of good stuff here. Harveyís humor is genuinely funny, if used a little stereotypically to show the hard as nails PI laughing at danger. His TV background sometimes interferes with Harveyís writing chops to make the book read like a dressed up screenplay. Strip out the internal thoughts, and it would be a good movie, but it still needs to move a little in the other direction to be a fully realized novel.




The History Book by Humphrey Hawksley

Publisher: Warner Books  ISBN 0 446 52744 0

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Most of us would be upset by the murder of a sister, and many of us would do what we could to bring her killer to justice.  Few of us would go to the lengths that Kat Polinski does in this grim and gritty book about a world that is almost ours.

Blackmailed into working as a secret agent for the US Government, Kat routinely breaks into foreign embassies to find out information that canít be gained any other way.  Shortly after her latest such job, Kat learns her sister Suzy is dead, and when she goes to England to learn more about it, she meets polite stone walls in every direction, even from her oldest friends.  Everyone just wants Kat to go home and bury her sister and forget about avenging her.

This isnít in Katís nature to do, and she soon discovers that Suzy was probably killed for what she knew about some organisations that thrive in darkness and will do anything needed to prevent the light shining on them.

Kat finds herself in the invidious position of having to fight not only the villains, but also the white hat brigade.  The more she investigates, the greyer the white hats look.  Towards the end of this fast-moving story itís rather difficult to tell good guys from the bad.  Fortunately Kat still has a few reliable allies on the fringes of society, but will they be enough to help her avenge Suzy, and also expose the dark deeds on Voz Island?

Conspiracy theorists will no doubt latch on to this book with glee, pointing to the authorís background as a reporter on terrorism and espionage topics as proof that Ďthereís no smoke without fire.í   For the rest of us, well, letís just say this is a disquieting book that probably shouldnít be read last thing at night.