Review: The Third Rail by Michael Harvey

The third novel by Michael Harvey to feature Chicago private investigator Michael Kelly was provided to me by the publisher in the hope that I would review it.

In Chicago a sniper kills a woman as she waits for her train then another woman is killed while on a different train. While authorities in the city scramble to bring things under control, private investigator Michael Kelly is contacted by the killer who starts hinting at what may lie behind the killings. Kelly, an ex-cop, is allowed a tangential role in the hastily established task force and, of course, he becomes pivotal to the events.

For me thrillers are all about fast-paced plots with impossible situations which a hero will somehow get himself and/or the village/city/world out of just in the nick of time. The Third Rail provided an interesting take on this formula and was certainly a quick read with plenty of tension. I did think the plot was unnecessarily convoluted though and this detracted a little from my enjoyment. I don’t think the book was helped by basing separate threads on completely unrelated real world events, one of which seemed to have no point whatsoever other than to, perhaps, lay the seeds for a future book. Surely a story about a rush to stop a series of terrifying spree killings and uncover the reason behind them should have been enough to sustain a great thriller.

I did like Michael Kelly and although I haven’t read the earlier books I didn’t feel that I was missing out on anything vital by not knowing his back story. Enough hints are dropped that I managed to create one for him in my imagination. In some ways he’s a typical thriller hero, being impossibly bullet-resistant and all of that, but I am a sucker for a guy who loves his puppy and is cynical about almost everything else. His relationship with his girlfriend, who struggles with the risks associated with his work, was one of the more realistic elements of the book for me and quite a highlight. Another highlight was the depiction of Chicago both physically and politically which helped add a credible element to the novel (though perhaps I am being unfair in thinking that corruption in the city’s political circles adds to the realism).

The alternating points of view between Kelly, the killer’s and others suited the style of the novel though jumping from first person to third person narrative was a bit awkward with such short chapters. Overall though this is a fast and easy read which you will not want to put down once you’ve started.

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My rating 3/5

Publisher Bloomsbury [2010]; ISBN 9781408805855 Length 281 pages

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5 Responses to Review: The Third Rail by Michael Harvey

  1. Bernadette – Thanks, as always, for a terrific review. It’s funny you would mention the kind of thriller hero you like – the “puppy-loving”-but-cynical kind. Ed Lynskey’s Frank Johnson is like that. He’s a tough, even “hard boiled” investigator, but he’s devoted to his cat, and never fails to call the “cat sitter” when he’s out of town to see how his companion’s doing. It’s an interesting side to a character.

    I agree with you about too many plot threads, too. Books that focus on the main plot, so that all of the threads lead back to it, make it easier (at least for me) to stay engaged.


  2. bernadetteinoz says:

    You just have to trust an animal lover I think Margot.


  3. I clicked over from Crimes Scraps, started reading this post, and just kept reading–you have read soooo many interesting books! Soon I found myself clicking on my Shelfari bookshelf to add many of them to my TBR list! Thanks for all the great new reads. I also found you have a lot of the same tastes as I do, and we’re both participating in the Global Reading Challenge. Go figure.



  4. Maxine says:

    I read this author’s debut, and was not sure. Some good points, some not so good. I, too , have a copy of this book to read so I will be interested to see if your view and mine coincide, when (if ever!) I manage to find a slot in the queue to read it.


  5. bernadetteinoz says:

    Michele thanks for stopping by and for your kind words, hope I haven’t done too much damage to your TBR pile 🙂


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