I'm always up for trying new authors and the Amazon Kindle Daily Deal (which offers a book for one day at a hugely discounted price) is a great way to do this. This is how I came across The Chicago Way by Michael Harvey.
Ex-policeman, now private investigator Michael Kelly is approached by his former police partner for help in investigating an old rape case. Less than 24 hours later, his partner is dead. Kelly sets out to try and uncover the truth about what happened to his partner and to the victim of the original crime.
Taken at face value, The Chicago Way really does little to advance the investigative thriller. Its central character is hackneyed (ex-cop private eyes are ten a penny in the genre), the plot fairly old hat (a murder investigation leading to a trail of corruption and cover ups) and the outcome pretty certain (you can narrow it down to one of two suspects from a fairly early stage).
Face value, however, doesn't do The Chicago Way justice. Whilst it's not the most complex or challenging of novels, it does display a surprising depth, which you don't initially anticipate.
The plot starts off in seemingly straightforward fashion and is heading down the "enjoyable but disposable" route. As it progresses, though, you start to appreciate that there is more to it than meets the eye. Almost without you noticing, Harvey turns the book in a darker direction. The humour and twinkle of the early pages disappear as the story becomes more serious. Moreover, Harvey proves rather adept at creating a layered tale, gradually introducing more and more elements, so that the final story (whilst never overly complicated) does offer a lot more than you initially expect. The ending is highly satisfying one and whilst the identity of the killer probably won't surprise you, subsequent events may well catch you a little off-guard. You will close the book for the final time satisfied that you have just read an excellent tale.
As a thriller, it works because Harvey keeps things rattling along. Whilst it never feels rushed, Harvey doesn't kill the book with too much detail. This is particularly true in the early stages when characters are often sketchily introduced to avoid slowing things down. Instead, he takes the sensible decision to gradually reveal more about the main characters and their motivations. The way you get to know the characters mirrors the way you get to know people in real life. You start off by taking in the basic facts (appearance, occupation), then move onto slightly more personal information (family history, background) before finally being trusted with more personal truths. This gives you a real feel for the character and means that when the book springs a shock on you (and there are a few), you feel it more intensely.
Whilst lead character Kelly might not be the most original, he is very interesting. The early stages of the book are actually quite funny in a subdued kind of way. There is a streak of black humour to Kelly's narrative and the text deliberately recalls noir detectives like Marlowe or Spade. Initially, Kelly is a lot of fun to be with. Then, as the narrative turns darker, Kelly himself exhibits a darker streak. The initial black humour and fun becomes lost as his personal demons start to gain the upper hand. Such a switch could have made Kelly feel like a flaky, uneven character, but in fact, it makes him more human and likeable.
There were some plot elements which felt a little undeveloped, or where the plot suddenly leapt forward very quickly, which was somewhat disconcerting. Whilst this did not spoil the book, it did make it feel a little uneven at times. Most of these issues probably betray the fact that Harvey is a first time author and has not yet ironed out some of the kinks in his narrative style. There are far more positives than negatives, though, and whilst Harvey's style might occasionally jar, he demonstrates a lot of promise.
There were some elements which didn't entirely gel. The title of the book - The Chicago Way - for example led me to believe that the Mafia or organised crime syndicates would feature heavily in the narrative. Whilst The Family does indeed turn up at one point, their involvement is a rather puzzling and inconsequential interlude. It almost feels like a sub-plot that was subsequently cut, with a small bit accidentally left in. The irony is that the title actually put me off reading this book for quite a while, since I assumed it would be a Mafia related title (which I'm not that keen on),. If I'd known it wasn't, I'd probably have got round to reading it much quicker.
The Chicago Way can be picked up for £2-3 in the Kindle edition, which I'd say is about fair. Although it's enjoyable, it's not a book that you are likely to want to read more than once and the £5 for the paperback edition is perhaps on the high side.
The Chicago Way
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