The Governor’s Wife, by Michael Harvey. Knopf, 2015.
Many fictional detectives and private investigators are identified with the cities of their authors. It is a means for the writer to share with the reader the spirit and ambiance of the environs the author loves. For Michael Harvey, the city is Chicago and the character is private investigator Michael Kelly. Kelly is a complex and intriguing man. He reads the Greek classics, but is not reluctant to mix it up with the bad guys when the situation calls for force. He is the lens through which Michael Harvey views Chicago. In four previous novels, The Chicago Way, The Fifth Floor, The Third Rail and We All Fall Down, Harvey has molded Michael Kelly into a private detective with a broad sense of justice and an independent mean streak affording Kelly the opportunity to dispense justice in his own private way.
The Governor’s Wife, Harvey’s latest novel, begins with a scenario all too familiar to citizens of Illinois. In our state it is de rigueur for governors to spend time in prison. Two of the last four occupants of the office have ended their careers by trials and incarceration in federal prison. Harvey’s Gov. Ray Perry was on the prison path until disappearing from the federal courthouse moments after being ordered to serve a 38-year prison term for corruption.
Enter Michael Kelly, sitting in his Chicago office one evening when a mysterious email arrives. It states that Kelly will be paid $250,000 if he can find the former governor. Kelly does not even know who his client is or why he is being offered this assignment. After some reluctance he accepts the offer and begins the hunt for Ray Perry, the former governor and now a wanted man.
Kelly’s search begins with the title character, Perry’s wife, Marie. She is the daughter of a powerful Chicago politician, a relationship that once again strikes a chord of familiarity for those of us in Illinois. Governor Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, is the daughter of powerful Chicago alderman Richard Mell. As with Patti’s relationship with her father, Marie’s relationship with her father is complex. Billy “Bones” McIntyre is the quintessential Chicago politician, even down to the cigars he smokes. When his doctor, concerned for his health, advised him to give up smoking, McIntyre responds he’d rather die than give up his cigars. Kelly is interested in learning from McIntyre the comings and goings of Beacon Construction, a company that has many state contracts but few working employees. It is a tangled web that leads Kelly into the morass of political corruption familiar to most with even passing knowledge of Illinois politics.
As the investigation progresses, Kelly comes upon a stereotypical cast of characters. We meet the thugs, the mysterious brains behind the organization and the Chicago police officers – some corrupt, some corruptible, but some with integrity who share Kelly’s passion for justice. And of course there is an evil seductress because, deep down, Michael Kelly is a romantic guy.
It is a plot-twisting tale that goes beyond the borders of real life. Michael Harvey writes frugally but in a fast-paced style that will have you turning pages at a rapid rate. The Governor’s Wife is like the city Harvey loves – gritty, complex and with few frills. Michael Harvey captures the spirit of his city and its quirky history in ways that few writers can accomplish. He is a joy to read.
Retired judge Stuart Shiffman is a frequent contributor to the book section of Illinois Times.