Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Third Rail

The Third Rail is Michael Harvey’s third Michael Kelly novel but my own first experience with the author and his series hero. Kelly is a Chicago ex-cop, a man who still has contacts within the department but knows too much about Chicago politics ever to be tempted back into to the job. He much prefers keeping his hand in the game by offering his investigative services to those Chicago citizens in need of a little private help – even though his work sometimes forces him to spend time with Chicago’s slimy mayor.

This time around, Kelly finds himself directly involved in the hunt for a serial killer who is terrorizing his city via several very successful random shootings. Kelly was at the scene of the first killing and he almost caught the killer in a chase through snow-filled Chicago, only to learn later that the killer was purposely sucking him into the investigation. The question is why.

Harvey knows his city well, and even readers who have never been to Chicago are likely to come away from The Third Rail with a sense of what life is like there for the locals. The book’s pivotal element is, in fact, based on a real life 1977 incident in which several L train cars derailed and fell to the ground, killing eleven people in the process. Michael Kelly, nine years old at the time, survived the crash but is still haunted by what he saw and heard that day. Apparently, he is not the only one.

The Third Rail is a nice blend of thriller and police procedural (Kelly gets himself attached to the official investigation as a consultant while working on the sly directly for Mayor Sleazy) and fans of the genre will likely enjoy the ride despite the spare style in which Harvey spins his tale. So much happens to Michael Kelly as he frantically tries to catch up with the shooter that Harvey has little time to develop his secondary characters – and even some of his more important ones. Perhaps readers of the first two Kelly books already know so much about Kelly and those closest to him that this is not problem for them, but first-time series readers will find themselves wishing they had been told more about the Third Rail characters.

And, as it turns out, there are lots of characters and culprits to keep up with: Homeland Security goons, duplicitous FBI agents, crooked cops, psychopaths, corrupt leaders of Chicago’s Catholic archdiocese, a nerdy computer wizard, a girlfriend, and, of course, Mayor Sleazy. So much happens, and happens so quickly, it is little wonder that the characters remain somewhat unrealistic to the very end.

Reading The Third Rail was a bit like frying up a skinny chicken; I kept wishing for a little more meat on the bones. Genre fans who enjoy a more spare approach to their thrillers, however, will probably love this book. If that’s your taste, give this one a shot.

Rated at: 2.5

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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