"The Fifth Floor"
(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale FEB 8, 2009)
“And what does Johnny really do?”
The reporter spread a smile across his face. “He’s what we call a fixer.”
“Yeah, a guy who fixes problems for the Fifth Floor. Makes things go away. And greases the machinery. All at the same time.”
The Fifth Floor is a suspenseful and entertaining follow-up to The Chicago Way, Michael Harvey’s first book about Chicago private investigator and former policeman Michael Kelly. When Janet Woods, an old friend of Kelly’s shows up in his office, he is quick to offer his assistance. He’s especially concerned when he sees the injuries on Janet’s face that appear to be the result of a beating by Janet’s husband Johnny Woods. He agrees to talk to Johnny without revealing that Janet has hired him to help.
Kelly talks to Pulitzer Prize winning investigator reporter Fred Jacobs to trade favors to gain more information about Woods. Jacobs, despite his odd and paranoid behavior, provides helpful insight. Johnny Woods is a key member of the mayor’s staff that work out of the Fifth Floor of a downtown Chicago building. Woods is a “fixer” for the mayor, helping to solve problems that the mayor requires “fixing.” Jacobs gives some more insight into the Fifth Floor and the roles of the various fixers under Woods
Before approaching Woods, Kelly decides to watch him to gain more information about him and why he treats Janet the way he does. Kelly tracks him to an old house and shortly after Woods enters the house, he quickly exits, leaving the door open and available for a check by Kelly. Kelly finds a dead old man inside with a mouth full of sand. Kelly quickly leaves the scene but calls in the apparent murder to the police.
Kelly later contacts Chicago police detective Dan Masters, someone he has worked with in the past, and one of the investigators looking into the death of the old man, identified as 75-year-old Allen Bryant. Kelly tells Masters that he was the one who found the dead man and the apparent connection of Woods, who likely was not the killer given the short time he was in the house.
Kelly’s further investigations show that Bryant had a special interest in the 1871 Chicago fire that destroyed a significant part of the city and was the owner of a rare book on the fire. Kelly also finds some indication that the family of the current mayor may have been involved in some shady dealings related to the fire, including ownership in various properties in the damaged areas. This appears to be show some indication why the mayor and therefore fixer Woods may have been interested in Bryant.
The historical angle along with several plot twists make for an interesting book as Kelly attempts to learn more about the fire, the mayor’s relationship and concern about the fire and the Woods’ problems. Kelly also meets and considers a romantic relationship with Rachel Swenson, someone who shared a friendship with the now deceased Nicole Andrews, Kelly’s former lover.
Some reviews and information on the book jacket for The Fifth Floor emphasize the “noir” crime style used by Harvey. I had some concern that this could actually get in the way of enjoying the book, but I really fell right into the style and really didn’t notice it, other than in the sense that I enjoyed reading the dialogue in the book. Harvey certainly uses dialogue in a very effective manner keeping up interest and providing realistic and fascinating characters. A combination of great dialogue with a first person perspective of private detective Michael Kelly are two of my favorites and extremely well done in this book.
I had not read The Chicago Way, the first book in this series, and I did feel this may have been a disadvantage, although I’m not certain. As I read several parts of the book, I felt I was missing some significant inferences from the past history between some of the characters. Of course, this could have been a technique used by Harvey and what I felt I missed may not have actually been in the prior book. I also felt that my limited knowledge of Chicago meant I missed some of the city references. Nonetheless, these are not critical to reading and enjoying the book; I just felt I would have enjoyed it more if I had read the first book and knew more about the city. I certainly want to go and read the first book now though.
- Amazon readers rating: from 59 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Fifth Floor at Random House
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- Official website for Michael Harvey
- MyShelf interview with Michael Harvey
- Read an excerpt from The Chicago Way
- Curled Up review of The Chicago Way
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Third Rail
- MostlyFiction.com review of We All Fall Down
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About the Author:
Michael Harvey was born and raised in Boston and graduated from Boston Latin School. He earned a law degree at Duke University and a masters in journalism from Northwestern and a bachelor's degree in classical language from Holy Cross College.
He is the creator, writer, and executive producer of the television series Cold Case Files, as well as an Academy Award-nominee for his documentary Eyewitness, and is a former investigative reporter for CBS.
Michael lives in Chicago, Illinois with his wife Mary Frances. Michael also owns The Hidden Shamrock bar if you ever want a great pint of Guiness while in Chicago. You might even see him there.