The book group chose Michael Harvey's The Fifth Floor this month. It has served as my introduction to potboiler fiction, a genre I've never read before.
This turned out to be a good choice for a summer read. This time of year, it's hot, the electric bill is so high it's like getting Tasered to look at it, and I don't need to think deep thoughts or be moved by elegant prose.
The prose ain't elegant, it's noir-ish and filled with metaphors that strike with the force of a sledgehammer. Like the chapters, the sentences are short. There's far more dialogue than exposition, and there certainly isn't much internal thought going on.
Radically different from others who set their scenes in Chicago, like Willa Cather or James Farrell.
As it turns out, this particular novel is the second in a series that follows narrator Michael Kelly, a disgraced cop turned private investigator. He smokes. He drinks. He probes the seedy underbelly of Chicago. Who needs uplifting, inspirational characters when you're hiding in air conditioned comfort to avoid sweating?
Having not read the first, there were times when I felt a bit lost when action from the first installment was referenced and I was not in the know. Even so, it was easy enough to follow the simple plot. The author uses the Chicago Fire as the jumping off point, creating a fictionalized scam perpetrated by a politician's ancestor back in 1871 and then using that scam as a potential scandal to derail the politician's career.
All in all, that's pure Chicago politics.
This being my first foray into the genre, I was a bit annoyed every time the narrator said or did something without letting me, the reader, in on it. I realize that this is a device meant to get me to turn the page, to keep reading until the narrator is good enough to fill us all in. For someone who's never read this sort of thing, it was a device that got under my skin, until I accepted it as the way these things are put together.
The characters are a bit more cartoonish than what you might find in a piece of literary fiction, but that's what this genre is all about, in a way. There's a place for comic books in this world, and a steady diet of great literature isn't exactly a well-rounded reading diet.
The point of the story is to figure out who-done-it, with a domestic dispute and a political scandal serving as separate story lines that become intertwined over the course of the narrative. The author skims over the surface, never diving too deep, because these novels aren't about depth. They're just stories for our entertainment and amusement.
As I said, perfect summer fare.
Naturally, I'll have to pick up the first in the series, The Chicago Way, to fill in the blanks caused by reading out of order.
And I'll want to verify that Mr. Harvey hasn't gone and spoiled my favorite dive bar by mentioning its location in books three and four. Wouldn't want the place filling up with literary tourists like Dublin's pubs on Bloomsday.