Michael Harvey's latest is an odd concoction of crime novel and government thriller — call it a crime novel plus. In this one, Harvey's signature main character, P.I. Michael Kelly, finds himself in the midst of a bio-terror event, one that has the potential to kill thousands of Chicago citizens. He handles himself with brains and brawn, and a steely steadiness in the face of almost certain death that gives the reader great confidence about overcoming even the worst obstacles that life offers. If you can keep your cool while dealing with a mayor who weighs saving face against the lives of thousands of citizens, you are cool. If you can keep your cool while a Chicago gang-banger holds a big pistol to your head and another gang member is digging your grave in the basement of a corner store in the worst part of town, you are really cool.
"There are no tricks when it comes to dealing with a bio-weapon, Mr. Kelly,"says an attractive biologist, one of the best minds in her field, who is giving the P.I. a swift tutorial on her problem, an anthrax attack in the Chicago subway that may be spreading too rapidly to contain. "No Jack Bauer heroics. Your best bet is to…wait until someone qualified shows up…"
But once he completes his impromptu tutorial in so-called Black Biology (the threat of terrorists concocting new strains of deadly viruses and such) and Bioinformatics (the good scientists way of finding cures for viruses yet to be created by the terrorists), there is no one more qualified than Michael Kelly, with a little help from a detective pal who's working a drug scam on the gang-bangers, to go up against a dirty U.S. science operative, a filthy ex-CIA operative, and those aforementioned gang killers? Oh, and scientists with guns
The plot moves swiftly, Kelly's voice, including some apt quotations from the classics he reads, resonates in persuasive fashion, and while Chicago may suffer the bio-terror threat with quaky nerves, you, dear reader, will never doubt that you are in the hands of someone quite qualified to tell the tale.
Alan Cheuse is the author of the recent novel Song of Slaves in the Desert.
"We All Fall Down"
By Michael Harvey
Knopf, $24.95, 320 pages