THE THIRD RAIL

Written by Michael Harvey

Review written by LJ Hurst

Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung


THE THIRD RAIL
Bloomsbury
RRP: £11.99
Released: 5th April 2010
pbk

The bad things come in pairs – first, two murders; then, as Chicago PI Michael Kelly finds as he follows a suspect’s pairs of footprints down a snowy alley, the suspect must have a partner who clubs the detective unconscious. For when Michael comes to he finds that the first suspect has escaped one way, while his attacker has gone another, only to find some vantage point from which to make taunting telephone calls. Now one of those suspects is a sniper – why did he not kill Michael when he had him in sight? Why did the partner in the alley not shoot him when he lay prone?

Two deaths on the ‘L’, the Chicago Transit Authority’s Elevated Railway, seem like random killings, but are frightening enough that the FBI intervene with a team that includes a profiler and one of their sharpest female agents who knows the Windy City inside out.  They tend to think there is only one killer and the big question is simply, who will be next?

Fortunately, Kelly is not a rogue – he is a former police officer, still in good relations and taken along for investigations by Detective Rodriguez – the police and the FBI trust him. If the FBI knew that Kelly has also been asked, privately, by the Mayor to find the killer and drop his corpse anonymously into a sewer, they might be more concerned, but then they would not have been thinking so intently of keeping the city at work.

Strange bits of evidence and hints drop on Kelly, like the ticket seller who points out that the two victims were both Hispanic – have blacks and whites been exempted? Worse, though, for Kelly is the knowledge that the death on the ‘L’ occurred at a point where a train crashed years before, a crash from which Kelly himself was rescued, a crash whose cause was never fully identified. Kelly is drawn back into investigating it.

Remember those pairs of darkness – that investigation is one. There is another – someone is planning biological warfare on the city – because someone has got hold of a US Army manual on the subject – and what better way of spreading disease in a city such as Chicago where the Church is so important than to drop a taint in the Holy Water dispensers.

And, finally, more pairs: Kelly and his girlfriend, and Kelly and his girlfriend’s dog. Not to mention Kelly and his computer guru. Only some of those relationships will last.

 The Third Rail is Michael Harvey’s third novel featuring Michael Kelly. The author also developed the TV series Cold Case. In some ways I thought it followed a television scenario and lacked depth, but re-reading it decided I was wrong. I would qualify that, and say that for a story in which I think any reviewer’s advice should be ‘Follow the money’ that the appearance of the forensic accountant is too hurried. On the other hand, novels which feature pathological snipers, dog-keeping PIs and forensic accountants are thin on the ground – this is one to appreciate.

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