The Governor's Wife
A novel by Michael Harvey
Book review by Jules Brenner
Knopf, released 6/2/15, 256 pp., $24.95
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For a good part of this crime and corruption noir thriller set in the rough town of Chicago, and Harvey's fourth with P.I. Michael Kelly, I wondered why he chose this title when it's so much about the governor, himself. But this thought dims as the investigator finds himself more intrigued by the secret actions of the wife. This is only one of the curves Harvey throws us.

P.I. Kelly's a good man with several strong bonding elements. His appreciation of poetry is the least of them. There's innate decency and a value system worthy of our good friends. Judgement is high on the list of his attributes, as well, and he's a gumshoe who has no problem turning down a job offer if it's something he'd "prefer to ignore."

In fact, his first reaction to the proposal he gets on page one, via email, was almost one of those. Someone unidentified wants him to find Raymond Perry, (only the ex-governor of Illinois), who scooted out of a sentencing hearing two years ago and hasn't been heard from since -- saving himself 20 years in the pen (if he stays gone).

But that's not the catchy part. The pitch includes a hundred grand retainer directly into an account in Kelly's name and another payment in the same amount if and when he finds the fugitive. Plus expenses.

Kelly's not a man to say yes to an email without an ID even with all that money to settle his debts and more, but that's the deal. And, though he'll soon find out that the client's money is good, it's still not about that. The sleuth takes the case because of its target. Who is more interesting than a one-time leader of a state who fell in disgrace and found a way to pull a disappearing act from a federal courthouse!

This is very much a Chicago story, in the same way Michael Connelly's are L.A. stories. Of course, the climate -- political and temperature-wise -- are different. Here, you can feel the chill.

Kelly's investigation quickly focuses on Marie, Ray's wife, who had to have played a role in hubby's disappearance. As the conduit of information Kelly hoped to question, he finds her a woman of few words and ready answers to questions everyone's asked. Quite alone except for her assistant, cut off from faithless friends and in the vigilant eye of the feds, the aloof rich woman considers her ex "gone." No idea where he might be. Kelly finds that a little dubious and goes on to research her past, as a prelude to surveil and follow her.

But, he discovers unexpected dimensions to the woman, causing him to realign his assumptions. Having adapted to the embarrassments her husband left in his wake with clear realism, she earns Kelly's new awareness that she's not an indifferent snob she projects to those who know little about her.

Meanwhile, Kelly's nosing around is leading him to a boatload of secrets, betrayals and circles rife with thugs who put little value on human life. As he cleverly digs to uncover the truth, the tension grows, along with the violence, the brutality and the guns. His doggedness puts his life more and more at risk.

This is the stuff of which gripping suspense is made, a well-paced mystery with players who the author is determined to make unpredictable (or, at least relatively unfamiliar). The book also has the rare virtue of tight size (256 pp) which, alone, embellishes Harvey's skill with rare restraint. This suggests to me that he has read and studied the mechanics of many an indulgent mystery novel.

If you don't yet own The Governor's Wife and would like to purchase it (usually at a sizable discount), click here.