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The Third Rail [Kindle Edition]

Michael Harvey
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $14.95
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

A woman is shot as she waits for her train to work. An hour later, a second woman is killed as she rides an elevated train through the Loop. Then, a church becomes the target of a chemical weapons attack. The city of Chicago is under siege, and Michael Kelly, former cop turned private investigator, happens to be on the scene when all hell breaks loose.  Kelly’s brassy investigating and razor-sharp instincts lead him into an intricate plot involving a retired cop, a shady train company, and a quietly ticking weapon nestled deep in the city’s underbelly.  But when his girlfriend—the gorgeous judge Rachel Swenson—is abducted, Kelly realizes that the only way he’s going to find the killer is to excavate his own stormy past.

From the Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews Review

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)

From Booklist

Harvey’s third Michael Kelly novel finds the tough Chicago PI eyeball deep in a burgeoning reign of terror focused on the transit system, the venerable CTA. Kelly witnesses the first murder on an L platform and sets off in hot but futile pursuit. After the second murder, he receives a taunting phone call from the killer, who alludes to Kelly’s knowledge of ancient Greece. As Kelly dredges his memory for a suspect—and recalls painful moments from his youth—the FBI barges in, citing terrorism; spooky suits from Homeland Security lurk on the periphery; and the body count rises. Hizzoner, the Daleyesque John J. Wilson, summons Kelly to make him an offer he can’t refuse. The expert use of Chicago politics that distinguished Harvey’s previous novel, The Fifth Floor (2008), is much in evidence here as well. Hizzoner is still practicing realpolitik, Chicago style, and the main plot is based on a real-life CTA accident in the 1970s. But the edginess and noir sensibility that were central to the earlier book’s appeal are lessened a bit this time by Kelly’s becoming an insider; the mayor seems to admire and trust him. That said, the action is nonstop, Harvey once again captures the unique zeitgeist of the city, and Kelly, tough smart, and a bit rough around the edges, is a true native son. --Thomas Gaughan

Product Details

  • File Size: 339 KB
  • Print Length: 305 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0307272508
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (April 20, 2010)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0036S4DLK
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #391,183 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Convoluted and tricky.... March 27, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a fascinating, convoluted tale that will definitely keep you reading into the wee hours, but a little advice: read very carefully, because there's a bit of trickery involved that almost verges on unfair. I'm going to let that go now, but I had to get it off my chest.

So. Back to the main event. This is Michael Harvey's third Michael Kelly novel and the first I've been lucky enough to get hold of. Therefore, I don't know what I may have missed in the first two, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It includes a back story about Kelly's life, which is at the heart of the mystery, so I felt that I knew Kelly and understood some of why he is who he is even without reading the first two novels. Perhaps the first two books go even further into setting the stage of his life, and I look forward to reading them to find out. In this one, Kelly is a tough guy who's left the Chicago PD to become a PI, but he maintains his contacts within Chicago's civic system and he utilizes them to good effect. He's also familiar with the seamy side of Chicago and knows his way around the bars and the thugs contained within. In this particular case, he brings in an astonishing array of characters and institutions that play important roles in the complex evil he uncovers. The writing is terse, straightforward, and authentic, with dialogue that rings true. The story moves like lightning, and if you blink, you'll miss where it strikes.

The opening scene wastes no time before the action is launched with seemingly random killings on the L, which our hero somehow seems to be involved in. As bodies begin piling up, Kelly's involvement appears to deepen, and the reader is given glimpses of some very evil perpetrators.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book has a beginning that grabs you from the start. What appears to be a serial killer targets and kills a woman in a Chicago subway within sight of Chicago private investigator Michael Kelly. Kelly gives chase and is set-upon by the shooter or a possible accomplice of the shooter. Kelly is warned and knocked unconscious. Soon after the shooter kills two more people on a subway and then contacts Kelly.

With a possible panic on his hands the Chicago Mayor tells Kelly to not take the shooter alive. The FBI is involved in the case led by a female agent. As the plot unfolds, everything seems to center around a church and a train incident that happened to Kelly when he was a youth.

The book itself is short and fairly fast paced. A lot of things bothered me a about it though. The FBI is made to look like a bunch of bumblers and the Chicago PD is shown to be inept too. Kelly seems to have a computer guy helping him out that is way more sophisticated than the FBI techs. The book also borrows from current events such as the scandals happening in the Church and the threat of terrorist attack in the subways. If each major city depended on someone like Kelly alone to save them then there would be a whole lot more incidents. The best that I can give this book is three stars.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Spree August 25, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Michael Harvey's third novel to feature Chicago private eye Michael Kelly is titled, The Third Rail. This time out, Kelly finds himself in the center of a killing spree and gets played by the mayor, the feds, the police, and most especially, the killer. Squeamish readers will find the violence over the top, and mystery lovers will have the good and bad guys sorted out without much strain to the little gray cells. Readers who like escape thriller novels will be entertained by this novel. This is a decent selection for an airplane ride or on vacation, since it doesn't require much effort to read. Readers looking for deeper character development won't find it here.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars superb Windy City Noir April 24, 2010
In Chicago, at the Southport L Station, Robles sees the woman alone by the stairs and fires a shot into her temple. Soon afterward he slices the throat of building manager Halter who welcomed him as a new tenant as Robles prepared for his next shoot. From the room's window he fires at a passing train exploding a passenger's head. Soon following that spree, the sniper kills three commuters on Lake Shore Drive, but failed to assassinate former cop turned private investigator Michael Kelly's girlfriend Judge Rachel Swenson.

CPD and FBI work the case, but Chicago mayor John J. Wilson hires Kelly off the books as the sleuth is actively involved as the killer taunts him via cell phone. Soon the sleuth believes there are two culprits working in harmonious synchronization while also wondering if somehow the murder spree is not quite as random as assumed; perhaps even going back three decades to when as a tweener Kelly survived an elevated train tragedy.

The third Kelly Windy City Noir (see The Chicago Way and The Fifth Floor) is a superb thriller that grips the audience with the first shot fired and never slows down until the final confrontation. The story line effortlessly switches from Kelly's first person viewpoint starting with a gun butt to his head and a profound third person look into the heads of deadly duet. The Third Rail is a fabulous Chicago cat and mouse investigative tale that never wastes a twitter of a moment even with a great twist that turns Kelly into a city hero though he never fires the key shot.

Harriet Klausner
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Only average
Published 6 days ago by Brent
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Excellent plot!
Published 2 months ago by Patricia C. Bobb
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast-paced thriller
Mike's third offering revs the series into an ever-faster pace of twists and turns, more roller coaster than speeding subway train. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Bill Carey
4.0 out of 5 stars gritty crime novel
This is a tough, gritty crime novel set in contemporary Chicago. The hero is a private detective named Michael Kelly, who reminds me of Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Jim Lester
5.0 out of 5 stars This Third Thriller Is The Most Exciting Yet!
This third book in the Michael Kelly series is much more exciting (and downright terrifying) than its predecessor in the series, The Fifth Floor: A Michael Kelley Novel (Vintage... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Yolanda S. Bean
4.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed it
The opening scene wastes no time before the action is launched with seemingly random killings on the L, which our hero somehow seems to be involved in. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Darla Mcgranaghan
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable read for Parker fans
I'm reading Harvey's books, in order, and have been enjoying them. Reminds me a lot of the Robert B. Parkers with a bit less wisecracking.
Published on November 9, 2012 by M. Kult
1.0 out of 5 stars Not a Sizzler
Was sure I had reviewed this, but it was another author who writes (tries to write) about Chicago. It is such a great city and no one seems able to write a decent mystery taking... Read more
Published on July 8, 2012 by coalpuss
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
I enjoyed this book and I like this author. I have lived in Chicago all my life and I appreciate reading about the locations that I recognize.
Published on May 3, 2012 by Grace Kroll
3.0 out of 5 stars Solid, but somewhat disappointing
Decent enough first person hard boiled ex-cop turned private eye thriller. McFestus was caught up in the opening subway murder and ensuing chase that led to the cleverly laid out... Read more
Published on March 28, 2012 by Watson McFestus
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More About the Author

Michael Harvey is the author of two crime novels, The Chicago Way and The Fifth Floor. His third book, The Third Rail, will be published by Knopf (USA) and Bloomsbury (UK) in April 2010. Michael is also a journalist and documentary producer. His work has won numerous national and international awards, including multiple CableACE and Emmy awards, as well as an Academy Award nomination. He is also the co-creator, producer and executive producer of Cold Case Files on the A&E television network. For more information, check out Michael's web site at or his Fan Page on Facebook.

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