Book Review | The Chicago Way by Michael Harvey

The Chicago Way doesn’t just take place in this city that I love so dearly – it takes place in Lakeview, a neighborhood I lived in for over 5 years. I’m not usually much for detective stories, but I couldn’t resist an author who claims to use the city as more than just the backdrop, but as a character. Overall, I wasn’t disappointed but I wasn’t completely impressed either. 

The Writing

There’s definitely a very noir / old-school detective feel to this book. It was a little formulatic at times, and at times Mr. Harvey was trying too hard. Really, it just dripped with first-novelness. I keep thinking to myself, “This guy is making a lot of rookie mistakes, but there’s a lot here to like too. I hope he workshops the hell out of his next novel.”

I can say that I’ve since read 2 of his other books (reviews to come) and was definitely impressed with his improvement. This isn’t terribly written and I think most plot-driven readers would find it to be actually quite good. To me though, it was clear he could do better, and thankfully he did in his next few books.

The Chicago-Ness

Most people who love Chicago will love this book. It’s full of wonderful references to fantastic places, and it definitely has a Chicago feel to it. However, there are two groups of people I think may be less than pleased.

  • Southsiders. Mr. Harvey makes the unfortunate mistake of painting the entire South Side with a gang-infused brush. Yes, parts of the South Side are rough. So are parts of the North, West, and East side, too. And many areas of the South Side are actually pretty fantastic. I expect this type of generalization from a novelist who’s only visited the city, but it’s clear that this author’s spent plenty of time here. I think it’s time for him to hop on the Orange line and take it a little further than he’s comfortable with.
  • Those familiar with Lakeview. There are some really weird inaccuracies that were just completely unnecessary. At the end of the book, Mr. Harvey acknowledges this and says “My apologies in advance to those of you who live in the world’s greatest city and know full well where all the imperfections lie.” First of all, he’s ‘apologizing in advance’ in the back of a book. It’s a little late by then. Second of all, the ‘imperfections’ are pointless. There’s a scene where he’s hanging out at Eat a Pita and he talks about a waitress coming over to ask if they needed anything. There are no waitresses there. It’s a counter, you order, they yell out your order when it’s ready (in my experience, quite rudely) and then you go get it. The waitress didn’t interrupt an important conversation or further the plot in any way. She was just there, asking if they needed anything. Why, Mr. Harvey? Why? Also, why did you put a piano player in the Belair Lounge (now defunct)? That was the greatest dive bar on the planet, but it was tiny! A bar, 3 or so tables, and no where to even comfortably stand around, let alone put a piano and a piano player. Once again, this wasn’t necessary to the plot. I understand that you’re writing fiction, and that there will be certain liberties taken, but these didn’t seem to be necessary.

I realize I’m being a bit ridiculous here, but the rest of his book was so well researched and so accurate that these little, weird inaccuracies really stuck out. Eat a Pita’s cheap as hell. Just stop by for a $3 sandwich special and check out the waitress / lack of waitress situation.

The Sexual Assault Stuff

I don’t want to get too much into the plot because it’s a ‘whodunit’ and I hate giving away even the most minor of plot points. However, I will say that sexual abuse survivors who are triggered by rape scenarios should stay really, really far away from this book. I was kind of taken aback by how it was handled at times. You meet a number of rape survivors, all of whom talk about their sexual assaults very nonchalantly. At one point, you meet a woman who’s been violently raped in her home only minutes before and she’s pretty much cool with it.

Certainly, some women are in shock after an incident like this, and being basically numb isn’t a rare reaction. However, that was pretty much everyone’s reaction. For example:

“If you don’t mind me asking, what do you need this guy for?”

“I don’t mind at all. I was raped when I was still pretty much a kid. Mr. Kelly is helping me find the bastard.”

This conversation takes place in a busy bar between two people who’ve just met. It felt a little weird for me.

Overall though, the story was solid, the writing had some flair, and it was a good first attempt. Stay tuned for reviews of his next 2 books, both of which are much more expertly crafted.

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