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The Third Rail by Michael Harvey

The Third Rail

by Michael Harvey

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Book # 3, in Michael Kelly, PI series

Thrillers are all about fast-paced plots and a hero that faces impossible situations and somehow get himself/herself out just in the nick of time. Definitely Michael Harvey has patted down this formula to a tee and is exploring it to the max. In the previous novels some historical incident were the bases for the plot, “The Third Rail” is no deferent, the story in the 3rd book relates to an accident which happened in 1977 when a four cars on E1 derailed and plunged to the street killing 11 persons. In this mystery Kelly was on board, his father was the conductor….fast forward to today, Kelly is drawn into a deadly cat- and mouse game when one morning while he was waiting for a CTA commuter train a man shoots and kills a woman near him….this is déjà vu all over…..and the start of random killings…and a PI on the chase.

This story is pure adrenaline rush as its peels its mystery one page at a time in a tone that is tough reflecting the protagonist rough side. The author deftly alternates between Kelly’s first-person perspective and third-person accounts of the men Kelly seeks. The many intersecting plot threads in this convoluted tale need our full attention although they do come together by the end, you will miss out if your attention wavers just a bit. This book is an engaging and a pretty good action thriller featuring tough, cynical characters in a bleak setting and is one hard to put down. ( )
  Tigerpaw70 | Jan 8, 2017 |
The first two novels in Michael Harvey's Michael Kelly mystery series, The Chicago Way and The Fifth Floor, were both 5-star reads. By those standards, The Third Rail fell a little short, but it is still an excellent mystery. Michael Kelly finds himself at the right place at the right time (or perhaps the wrong place at the wrong time) when a sniper kills a woman on the L. It soon becomes clear the killers have far bigger plans to terrify Chicago, and they want Michael Kelly along for the ride. Harvey lets the bad guys share narration in this novel, and the insight into their actions wasn't as compelling of the rest of the mystery. The ending, however, is delightfully ambiguous. ( )
1 vote nomadreader | Dec 19, 2013 |
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. ( )
1 vote bsquaredinoz | Mar 31, 2013 |
A kind of far fetched motive for a serial killer but the story is otherwise OK. ( )
1 vote EctopicBrain | Dec 4, 2012 |
THE THIRD RAIL is the third Michael Kelly, policeman turned PI, based thriller, set in Chicago. And Harvey doesn't muck around, throwing Kelly right into the middle of the action from the start of the book, when waiting at an El stop he witnesses a man shooting a woman in the head. In hot pursuit, Kelly is waylaid in an alley and knocked out cold. Which leaves some room for speculation about whether or not the shooter has a partner. Another passenger dies on the same transport system and it's not too long before it becomes obvious that the first shooting was meant to get Kelly involved.

The pace of the book doesn't let up at any point from the start to the end - which is just as well because the plot gets very convoluted at points with a big cast of investigators including the Kelly, the local police, FBI and Homeland Security. All the way through though, it's obvious that there is something very personal in the targeted involvement of Kelly, and despite all the other participants, he alone is destined to save the day.

Alongside Kelly's story, the story of the killer(s) (it's very quickly revealed that this is a team, although there are aspects of that that need to be left unsaid so as not to spoil the overall plot) is told through a series of revelations. Whilst their story is told, and some of the motivation revealed, it's not until right at the end of the book that all the elements are fully explored. To be honest it wasn't too hard to figure out the main suspect (simply because there didn't seem to be much reason for them to be there otherwise), and it wasn't hard to figure out that the events were going to be connected and therefore where the grudges lay.

I think that's probably the only major problem I had with this book - the motivation seemed to be a tad obvious in some instances, overly complex in others and frankly partially unbelievable. Having said that, Kelly is a good character and I liked the fact that I didn't really need to have read the first two books to get a handle on him very quickly. Ultimately THE THIRD RAIL was fast, it was reasonably exciting, and quite readable. But, and this doesn't happen very often, not a lot of the book has stayed with me. ( )
1 vote austcrimefiction | Jan 24, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307272508, Hardcover)

A Q&A with Michael Harvey

Question: Where did the idea for The Third Rail come from? You often use Chicago's history as a backdrop--what elements made it into The Third Rail?

Michael Harvey: The L accident in The Third Rail is loosely based on an actual event. On February 4, 1977, four CTA cars came off the rails of Chicago’s L and crashed into the street at the corner of Lake and Wabash in Chicago’s Loop. Eleven people were killed and pictures of L trains hanging off the tracks were splashed across page one in newspapers across the country. The cause of the real accident was eventually determined to be operator error.

Question: Part of the scenario played out in The Third Rail references a U.S. Government scenario called "Terror 2000." Is there such a thing?

Michael Harvey: Terror 2000 was the name of an actual Pentagon report issued in 1993. The report was intended to be a real-life assessment of terrorism in the 21st century and, specifically, the threat terrorist organizations posed to the United States. Among the scenarios reportedly contemplated by the report: anthrax being released in a subway and commercial airliners being flown into government buildings and the World Trade Center.

We know all too much about the second scenario. The first one outlined in the report was pretty much as I described it in The Third Rail. Terrorists would secrete weaponized anthrax in a light bulb and screw the light bulb loosely into a socket along a subway line. The light bulb would then serve as a timing mechanism. As trains passed by, they would eventually loosen the bulb, causing it to fall, break and disperse the weaponized pathogen.

Terror 2000 was never released to the public because the government deemed the report too disturbing. I first read about it in 1994. I was a journalist in Chicago and remembered thinking, "Wow, this stuff could really happen..." Then I did a little more research and discovered how difficult it would be for a private individual to go through the process of actually “weaponizing” something like anthrax. That made me feel a little better... until I read just recently about the government’s largest bio-weapons research facility at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

In February of 2009, work at Fort Detrick was suspended due to concerns about the facility’s inventory of pathogen samples. Those samples include Class A pathogens such as anthrax, smallpox and Ebola. According to reports, the director of the lab ordered a complete accounting of the facility’s inventory and said there was a high probability there would be "discrepancies" uncovered. He also indicated the lab had only computerized their inventory control system in 2005. Prior to that, samples were signed in and out of the lab using pen and paper.

Two months after the inventory was conducted, the government announced they had discovered more than 9,000 unaccounted-for pathogen samples inside various lockers and freezers at Detrick. A criminal investigation was ordered. Government officials said there was no reason for the public to be alarmed.

Bottom line is when you put the subway scenario outlined in Terror 2000 together with what’s going on right now at Detrick, and then you throw in the prophetic nature of Terror 2000 vis a vis 9/11... it’s a little scary, and definitely cause for concern.

Question: The Third Rail has some pretty disturbing and intense aspects--it's darker than the previous two Michael Kelly books. Any reason?

Michael Harvey: I wanted the first half of The Third Rail to reflect the unsettled nature of an investigation involving a high-profile serial or spree killer. In the classic homicide investigation, an investigator finds a body, works the scene, interviews witnesses and begins the process of following up leads. He or she is the protagonist, driving the action forward, dictating the flow of events and causing the killer to react. In The Third Rail, however, the exact opposite is true. Kelly and the cops can never get ahead of the curve. They are dancing to the killer’s tune from page one--reacting to another crime scene even before they have finished processing the first, fielding phone calls from the killer and feeling the tightening vise of the media and the public as the body count grows. It is not until the second half of the book that Kelly finally gets a handle on the action and asserts his will over the course of events. In real life, the unsettled nature of this type of investigation raises the stakes tremendously for the men and women working the case and places a huge amount of stress on everyone involved. To some extent, the darker and disturbing aspects of The Third Rail probably reflect that dynamic.

Question: What's next for Michael Kelly?

Michael Harvey: The Third Rail ends with several large pieces still in play. I am considering a follow-up novel that would build on at least one of these themes; specifically, the possibility of an unconventional chemical or bio-weapons attack in a major American city. Without giving away too much, placing this sort of threat in a classic crime novel format might be kind of fun. Not sure yet if that’s where I’m going, but it’s a possibility. We’ll see.

(Photo © Brian Smith)

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:08 -0400)

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In a tale set in the public transit system, former Irish police officer-turned-private investigator Michael Kelly witnesses a sniper shooting and discovers unsettling ties between the killer and his own past.

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