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.
Harvey's superb second thriller to feature PI Michael Kelly (after 2007's The Chicago Way) has the ex-Chicago cop taking on what he thinks is a simple domestic violence case. But when he tails Johnny Woods, a fixer for the city's powerful mayor, to what turns out to be a grisly murder scene, Kelly realizes he's stumbled onto a scandal that began with the great Chicago Fire of 1871. Digging deeper, Kelly unearths what was once considered an urban legend: two of Chicago's most eminent families conspiring to eradicate Irish immigrants by burning down the city's slums. As more bodies pile up and he becomes romantically involved with a judge with secrets of her own, Kelly vows to expose the conspiracy, even if that means putting himself on the wrong side of the city's most powerful men. 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. 4-city author tour. (Aug.) ""
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August 25, 2008
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Excerpt from The Fifth Floor by Michael Harvey
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 think this ends?"
The woman dropped her eyes back to her lap.
"You're a smart woman, Janet. You can figure it out. You wind up hurt real bad. Maybe dead. Or . . ."
She raised her head again. "Or what?"
"Or he winds up dead. Either way, it's not good."
She thinned her lips and set a hard edge at the corners of her mouth. There'd never been anything soft about Janet Woods' face. Beautiful, yes. Even through the bruises. But never soft.
"What do you want?" she said.
"Same thing I wanted three months ago. Get you out of there. Today. Taylor's in school, right?"
"Okay. We pick her up. I take you to a safe place. No one knows but me, you, and your little girl. Then I approach your husband. Explain the situation to him."
"Johnny will never go for it."
"He doesn't decide, Janet. He just listens."
She hesitated, then shook her head. "I can't. Not right now."
I leaned back in my chair and looked toward the front windows. The sun had cracked through my blinds, and dust floated in panels of afternoon light.
"Don't make this personal, Michael."
I swept my gaze back across the room. "Excuse me?"
Janet had brought a cup of Starbucks with her. She took a final sip and dropped the cup into a wastebasket near her feet. Then she crossed her legs and deflated a little with a sigh.
"I said, 'Don't make this personal.'"
"What does that mean?"
She shrugged and stared at the line of her calf, the angle of her shoe.
"I don't know. Just don't."
I breathed lightly through my nose and let the silence between us settle. Old friends make lousy clients. When that friend was once something more, things only get worse. I considered the tangle of history that bound us to each other, but got nowhere with it.
Then I sat forward, tented my fingers on the surface of my desk, and smiled. "How about some lunch?"
Janet closed the book I'd given her and dropped the glasses back over her face. "Sounds good."
"Let's go," I said. "There's a new place down the street." She unfolded slowly from her chair, moving stiffly for a woman in her thirties. I figured Johnny Woods might be doing a little bodywork as well but didn't comment.
We made our way out of my office and down the corridor. I stopped about halfway down. My client stopped with me. She kept her eyes fastened on her feet as she spoke. "What?"
"Let me at least approach him. Just once. I can run into him by accident."
"What good will that do?"
"Maybe I can get to know him. Talk some sense into him."
Janet put a hand to her temple and rubbed. Her fingers were long and thin. Old, but not with age. Then she dropped her hand back to her side and gave a small shrug.
"He can't know I've hired a private investigator."
She nodded once and we started down the corridor again. It wasn't everything I wanted. In fact, it wasn't even close. But at least it was a start.
I double-parked on Michigan Avenue, popped my blinkers, and cruised the FM dial. I was tapping along to a-ha singing "Take on Me" and wondering whatever happened to my inner Led Zeppelin when Fred Jacobs walked out of the Tribune Building.
Fred was six feet two and weighed slightly less than your average house cat. He was chasing sixty, with an Adam's apple that earned every bit of its moniker and a head of black hair the color and consistency of shoe leather. He wore a brown Ban-Lon golf shirt over a pair of green-and-gold-checked polyester pants with inch-and-a-half cuffs. His socks were white and his loafers black. His skin was yellow when it wasn't just grim, and an unfiltered Camel hung from rubber lips. Fred was a lifelong bachelor. Suffice it to say, he didn't get a lot of chicks. What Fred did get was information. The man shambling along Michigan Avenue had won two Pulitzers and represented probably the best investigative reporter this side of Bob Woodward. I pulled the car up but Fred just kept walking. I'd seen this before and rolled down the window.
"You getting in, Fred?"