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The Third Rail Kindle Edition

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Length: 305 pages Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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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: 2625 KB
  • Print Length: 305 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (April 12, 2010)
  • Publication Date: 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
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #236,811 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Kokopelli VINE VOICE on 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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Michael A. Newman VINE VOICE on May 22, 2010
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 By Stephen T. Hopkins VINE VOICE on 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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Lee VINE VOICE on June 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
From what I'd read about Harvey's books I had expected the author to be Chicago's Raymond Chandler. Perhaps there is more atmosphere in The Chicago Way (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) or The Fifth Floor (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard), but in his newest novel I found any feel for the city to be limited to the use of street or neighborhood names. Nor was I very impressed with the author's prose or style; he is (as of yet, at least) no contemporary Chandler.

Harvey does tell a decent story that holds your interest, initially alternating between a first-person narration by his private investigator, Michael Kelly, and a third-person account of the actions of those responsible for a horrific killing spree.

As is often the case with today's thrillers, this one doesn't really make a lot of sense. Certainly someone would have noticed that the villain was a maniac long before now, and the motivation really doesn't add up. And we have the same portrayal of certain institutions as corrupt that we come to expect and with no really new or interesting angle. The bottom line is that I didn't really buy this story, and I had the feeling I've read it all before.

It's a fun and fast read, but it's very forgettable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Third Rail by Michael Harvey was my first time reading this author. He has also authored The Chicago Way and The Fifth Floor . I'm going to assume that the first two are just as riveting and will be on my TBR list soon...besides Michael Connelly has recommended him and I always pay attention to those who get praise from this favorite author of mine...

Individual acts of terrorism are just a little bit scarier these days, so plan early to hate Robles, the man who nobody notices as he walks on the platform as people wait for the train, then leisurely decides that a woman, putting on her lipstick, will be the one, shooting her in the temple. He then calmly walks away and onto the streets, not too fast, for he wants a man to follow...

And he was! And Robles could have killed him right there on the streets. That he didn't was his mistake.

Robles next chose a rifle and watched through the scope as the train went by, he found a young Latino woman with her head bend, reading. She looked up right at him, at that last moment...

Michael Kelly is our hero--a former cop turned PI.

And he is also the ultimate victim for the killer!

In fact, he even calls Kelly so that the cat and mouse game on definitely occur!

Of course the police believe that this is just a "smoke screen" so they politely exclude Kelly from participating in any of the major discussions and planning of the inner circle. It was his thought at his exclusion that he now fully realized the reason why criminals chose their careers!

While more bodies pile up, some found by the police, some not, but found and ignored by Kelly, Michael was close behind, even to the point of seeing the red dot flick and being forced to dive aside...
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