Novel idea

 'Cold Case Files' co-creator at Ann Arbor event Sunday

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Best-selling author Michael Harvey, who co-created A&E’s “Cold Case Files,” never intended to publish his first novel; he wrote it just to see if he could do it.

Harvey, 55, of Chicago, gave a long reason why.

“I came to Chicago and practiced law for three years. I liked law school more than practicing law. I liked the study of law. I wanted to try my hand at writing. I thought journalism – investigative journalism – would be a good combination of the two because I could use my law degree and tell stories, so I went and got my master’s in journalism. It was a good choice for me,” recalled Harvey, who was born in Boston. 

Harvey will be one of many authors attending the Kerrytown BookFest 2014 this Sunday, Sept. 7 in Ann Arbor. Along with fellow mystery-thriller novelists, including Whitmore Lake’s Loren D. Estleman and Theresa Schwegel, he will be participating in a panel called “The Art of Suspense.”

“You write what you know. I definitely knew a lot about the criminal world, how investigations work, what crime scenes look like, how cops talk to each other, how killers talk, what death row looks like – I knew a lot about that world from reporting. I felt that’d be the world I’d be most comfortable writing in. I’ve always loved (Raymond) Chandler, (

Harvey earned his undergraduate degree in classical languages from Holy Cross College in 1980; his juris doctorate in law from Duke University in 1984; and his master’s degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 1989.

“Getting into journalism was really getting the chance to write professionally in a non-fiction capacity – that’s where it started. I worked at CBS in Chicago and did a lot of investigate work for them. Then I moved on and became an independent documentary filmmaker. I co-created (‘Cold Case Files’)… As a result of that, I was continuing to write and tell longer and longer stories down the line in a non-fiction area. And then after doing that for 10 years, I had a lot of voices in my head. In the context of being a journalist and documentary filmmaker, I got to meet a lot of cops, a lot of killers, I’ve been to a lot of crime scenes…” explained Harvey.

He continued: “I had a lot of stories… so I decided to try fiction just for fun and see if I could write a novel. I had 50 pages of what became ‘The Chicago Way’ (his first novel and the first featuring private investigator Michael Kelly) sitting in my drawer. In the summer of 2006, I pulled it out, read it, liked it, and thought I’ll just finish this and see what happens. I was very busy doing docs so it wasn’t something I had to do. I didn’t even know if I would try to get it published; I just wanted to see – frankly – if I could finish it.”

He did just that and found an agent, who sold “The Chicago Way.” 

“He represented the same kind of writing I wanted to do: mass market thriller fiction. Within a week, he finished it and said he wanted to represent me. That was the beginning of maybe I can do this for a living. It happened really quickly,” said Harvey. “It was very fortunate and it’s been very fun.”

In total, Harvey has penned five novels, four of which feature Kelly. His sixth novel, “The Governor’s Wife “– featuring Kelly – will be out in early 2015. In it, Gov. Ray Perry of Illinois is convicted of corruption. After being sentenced to more than 30 years in prison, he tells his wife Marie to pull the car around while he uses the restroom. He’s never seen again, leaving Marie behind. 

“He disappears with $40 million. He becomes the Whitey Bulger of Chicago. People see him all over the world and yet don’t see him anymore,” said Harvey.

An anonymous client hires Kelly to find Perry, paying him $100,000 upfront. There’s another $100,000 waiting once he brings him in. He talks to Marie, who went from being to the First Lady of Illinois to running a cupcake shop. 

“Marie was supposed to be a minor character but became the main focus,” said Harvey.

Harvey is currently working on an untitled standalone book set in his native Boston. It’s the first book of his set outside Chicago. He stated that jumping between standalones and his series protagonist sharpens his skills as a writer. 

“I like writing the standalones. It’s nice being able to go back to Kelly after the standalone because it gives you the ability to stretch a little bit. When you go back to Kelly, you have fresh ideas for him and different things you want to do with him and hopefully the readers will like it,” explained Harvey. “After a while, there’s limits to what you can do with (Kelly) because you can’t go totally out of character with him. The character becomes defined; they are who they are. In the mind of the reader, there’s an unspoken contract between the writer and the reader; there’s limits on what you can do… The main character – once he or she is set – they can stay pretty much the way they are. There are minor changes that are evolutionary rather than revolutionary.”

His Boston novel is about two teen-agers involved in a crime with racial overtones. In the aftermath, one must leave while the other stays. Fast forward 25 years: the one who left goes on to win the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting and returns to the neighborhood for the first time since that fateful night. 

“When you grow up in Boston, it’s in your bones. You never get away from it. You may think you get away from it and you can live all over the world, but when you return, the past tends to be right on your shoulder. It’ll pull you back in and there’s no escaping it,” he said. “There’s a destiny or a fatalism to that, which is a theme that runs throughout a lot of Boston stuff. I didn’t intend to put that in my book, but I did. The neighborhoods I grew up in are very close-knit – it can be a good thing, it can be a bad thing but it’s just the way it is. It’s hard to get away from that. That’s what drives this particular theme.”

Harvey really doesn’t outline his novels. 

“I have a general idea of where I like things to go. At some point, maybe 20,000 to 25,000 words in, I’ll take stock of where I want things to go. In the beginning, I let the characters run. If I plot too tightly, it’s like putting the characters in a bit of a straightjacket,” he said. “In the morning when I sit down to write, I think, ‘We’re gonna go here today.’ But the character says, ‘No, we’re gonna go here today.’ I don’t think one way’s right or wrong, it’s just your creative process and what you feel comfortable with.” 

For more information about the Kerrytown BookFest 2014, go to