The Fifth Floor by Michael Harvey

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The Fifth Floor by Michael Harvey

Category: Crime
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Graeme K Talboys
Reviewed by Graeme K Talboys
Summary: A paint-it-by-numbers crime story; efficient, but lacking personality and tension.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: February 2009
Publisher: Quercus
ISBN: 978-1847246981

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Michael Kelly, a private investigator in present-day Chicago, is hired by an old flame in the hope he can do something about her abusive husband. Kelly follows the husband (a fixer for the Mayor of Chicago), looking for a way to resolve the issue. Instead, he finds a corpse and soon becomes entangled in a deadly intrigue involving modern politics and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

This is a competent and well-written book, insofar as grammar, syntax and spelling goes. It contains all the correct elements for a crime novel. The idea behind the story is intriguing. As for the rest, it fails to live up to the potential and the praise given to the author's first novel.

The opening of the book rang warning bells. A Private Investigator sits in his office with a beautiful woman in distress. This was a cliché in the 1940s, yet where Chandler managed to make it seem fresh, here it seemed to serve the purpose of letting the reader know this was going to be a 'hard-boiled' crime story. This first story-line, by a huge coincidence, leads us to the other. For me, the warning bells grew louder.

After this, we were treated to a series of events, scenes, and characters that could have been lifted from any of a thousand badly written pulp magazines or daytime television crime series. A Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who chain-smoked, drank too much, and spent most of his time in a run-down café eating junk food; two cops lifted straight out of Chandler, but leaving anything of interest behind; a tough Mayor; a feisty female judge; local colour that could have done with a fresh lick of paint. None of whom seemed to be there other than to serve the plot – taken out of their box, moved around, and put away again.

And it is a plot that has holes, little in the way of organic development, took too long to get going, was saggy in the middle, and refused to lie down and die at the end. The author should have been kinder and put it out of its misery about ten chapters earlier than he did.

There was no real sense of place. The author lives in Chicago, yet it read like it was a generic American city – although it may just be that American cities are like that these days. Given that we are delving into the history and politics of a particular city, it would have been good to have come away with a flavour of the place without having to use Street Google.

This may all seem unduly harsh, but for a writer who has been involved with Emmy Award winning television projects, this was a disappointing book. It felt like a self-indulgence, the author's private fantasy of being a Private Investigator. An attempt to be Raymond Chandler, when he should have been trying to be Michael Harvey. One has to wonder if it would have made it into print had he not already been in the business.

That all said, it is far from being the worst example of a crime book in print. I would let it off with a caution rather than haul it down to the police station for an intimidating inquisition. If you are stuck on a plane or train with nothing else to do, this will fill the time without taxing you too much and perhaps that is all we should ask of such a book. I got the feeling, though, that with a little extra effort, it could have been so much better.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this type of book appeals then we can recommend The Next Accident by Lisa Gardner.

Buy The Fifth Floor by Michael Harvey at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Fifth Floor by Michael Harvey at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Fifth Floor by Michael Harvey at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Fifth Floor by Michael Harvey at Amazon.com.


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