That’s one of the epitaphs from The Chicago Way by Michael Harvey. Sounds tough, right? It should. It’s a line delivered by Sean Connery as Officer Jim Malone in the movie The Untouchables. Pretty appropriate for a novel about a Chicago PI. But here’s the other epitaph:
It is hard to contend against anger. For whatever it craves, it buys with its life.
This quote is from Heraclitus. Not to get too deep, but Heraclitus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. He believed in ever-present change, and one of his most famous sayings is “No man ever steps in the same river twice.”
These two epitaphs sum up the main character of The Chicago Way quite nicely. Michael Kelly is a private eye and former cop who keeps a copy of the Iliad by his bed and can read and speak ancient Greek.
He’s tough, though.
I was on the second floor of a three-story walk-up on Chicago’s North Side. Outside the Hawk blew hard off the lake and flattened itself against the bay windows. I didn’t care. I had my feet up, a cup of Earl Grey, and my own list of the ten greatest moments in Cubs history.
That’s the book’s opening passage. Two paragraphs later, he’s visited by his old partner, John Gibbons.
Gibbons had been retired from the force five years now. I hadn’t seen him in four, but it didn’t matter. We had some history. He shook off the rain and threw a chair toward my desk. He sat down as if he belonged there and always had. I putt the Cubs away, pulled open the bottom drawer, and found a bottle of Powers Irish. John took it straight. Just to be sociable, I gave Sir Earl a jolt.
Put simply, The Chicago Way is a great book. Michael Harvey—journalist, documentary producer, writer, and co-creator and executive producer of Cold Case Files—writes with a sort of rough poetry that I really like. The two passages above are prime examples.
Gibbons is visiting his old partner because of a rape and battery case that remains unsolved. Christmas Eve eight years earlier, Gibbons is patrolling South Chicago in his squad with his windows down. He always drove with his windows down, no matter what the weather. He hears a shot, rolls around a corner, and sees a girl running down the middle of the street, covered in blood. There’s a guy chasing her with a .38 in one hand and a knife in the other. He’s still sticking the knife into the girl as they run.
They run toward him as if he’s not there, so he steps out of his squad, and catches both of them, the guy still stabbing the girl. He doesn’t register Gibbons until Gibbons sticks his gun to the perp’s head. He makes the arrest, gets the girl in an ambulance—multiple stab wounds to the chest—and finds the guy’s car. Pops the trunk, finds sheets of plastic, and lots of rope. In the driver’s compartment, blood under both seats and custom-made carriers for a bulldog shotgun and a machete. More leather fittings on the visors, one for the gun the perp had, the other for the knife.
He takes the guy downtown, figures he can sort things out in the morning. But when he comes in the next day, the perp is gone. Released. The chief takes Gibbons into his office, says to forget about it. The guy never existed, the crime never happened. Then he hands Gibbons a Police Medal, the highest honor a Chicago cop can get. The deal is this: Gibbons gets the medal, a promotion, and a raise. In return, he forgets about the crime.
Now Gibbons wants to hire Michael to solve the case. The girl didn’t die, but she’s scarred—physically and mentally—and an alcoholic. Michael agrees to take the case, then gets a call at three-thirty the next morning and learns that John Gibbons was found dead of gunshot wounds—two in the stomach—down by Navy Pier.
And so begins a twisted, convoluted case that tests everything Michael thinks he knows. He gets double-crossed by friends, and befriended by virtual strangers.
If it sounds like I’m recommending this book, it’s because I am. Michael Harvey has obviously studied his masters, because the language is that of the old school private eyes. Think Raymond Chandler and Ross McDonald.
The good thing about The Chicago Way is that it’s the first in a series. I already have the second one—The Fifth Floor—checked out, waiting to be read (I’m currently getting into The Highway by CJ Box), and there are two more after that, plus a stand-alone called The Innocence Game.
So if you like your PIs tough yet cerebral (there’s even a short discussion late in the book about Agamemnon by Aeschylus), then the Michael Kelly series looks to be a good one. The Chicago Way definitely is. Let’s just hope the series lives up to its debut novel.