'The Governor's Wife'

Author Michael Harvey has written a fifth novel featuring private investigator Michael Kelly.

Author’s new novel was inspired by the case of Rod Blagojevich

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Most of best-selling author Michael Harvey’s plots aren’t tied to any specific real-life event, but that’s not the case with his latest novel.

Harvey, 56, of Chicago, was inspired by the case of Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois who’s currently serving 14 years for corruption, including the soliciting of bribes for political appointments.

“I was watching television the morning of his sentencing. You had a media chopper following his car down to the Dirksen Federal Building,” recalled Harvey. “As I’m watching, there’s a whole swarm of media waiting outside the courthouse for him. I thought wouldn’t it be funny if they opened up the door to this car and there’s nobody in the backseat. What if he was just gone?”

Thus, “The Governor’s Wife” (Knopf $24.95) was born, the fifth novel featuring private investigator Michael Kelly.

The plot has Kelly on the trail of disgraced Illinois governor Ray Perry, who’s been missing for two years after disappearing from a federal courthouse in Chicago with $40 million moments after being sentenced to 37 years in prison on corruption charges. Kelly gets an anonymous e-mail offering to pay him nearly a quarter of a million dollars if he’ll find Perry, no questions asked.

His investigation begins with the woman Perry left behind: his wife Marie, who’s now running a cupcake shop. Ostracized by her former friends and hounded by the feds, Marie tells Kelly she has no idea where her husband is. Like everyone else, Kelly doesn’t believe her. As he hunts for her husband, Kelly begins to unwind Marie’s past, finding out she’s even more intriguing than her husband, with her own deeply complicated reasons for standing by him, regardless of what’s he done.

“I originally thought it would focus on the governor and the search for the governor who’s became the Whitey Bulger of Chicago,” said Harvey, who earned his undergraduate degree in classical languages from Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, Ind. in 1980; his juris doctorate from Duke University in 1984; and his graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 1989.

However, as he kept writing Harvey – who doesn’t plot his books – stated that Marie took center stage.

“When Kelly’s first hired, he goes to see the wife. She’s the former first lady of Illinois; half the city thinks she helped her husband escape and the other half thinks she’s a loser. I knew she was gonna be a very pissed off lady, and I knew she’d be an interesting figure. Writing her dialogue, I thought she’d be a minor character and a conduit to the governor himself, but once she came on the scene, I began to find more and more things in her life – such as her relationship with her husband – and peel away the layers. Over time, I felt this was where the heart of the book is. It wasn’t anything I was planning,” he explained.

Harvey next talked about how he created Kelly and what makes him stand out from other P.I.s in detective fiction today.

“I was a big fan of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett growing up. Those two drew upon the archetypal western hero, I think, in creating Phillip Marlowe, Sam Spade, and all those wonderful characters. That had a huge influence on me. I didn’t intend to create a modern-day version of Phillip Marlowe, but that was certainly a big influence… A powerful detective who has his own code of justice and sometimes that complies with what society wants and sometimes it doesn’t. I think that’s reflected honestly in the real work I’ve done on ‘Cold Case Files’ and seen in homicide investigations,” said Harvey, who co-created, wrote and served as executive producer of the Emmy-nominated show “Cold Case Files,” as well as worked as an investigative producer for CBS in Chicago prior to becoming a novelist.

He continued: “There are police detectives out there, who in a good way, keep files under their desks – cases they haven’t solved – and they bring it up every now and then. They work on it quietly when people don’t know they’re working on it. They have a certain dedication and this lone-wolf, dogged determination to get to the bottom of it and find out what happened. I got it in fiction. I got it in non-fiction. It was more of an organic thing and not an unconscious decision to create Michael Kelly in a certain way.”

Additionally, Kelly has a classical languages background and is an avid reader of the works of Ovid, the ancient Roman poet. As the series goes on, Kelly becomes more and more impacted by the violence he encounters that’s visited on women children, according to Harvey.

“I’ve seen people talk about the kind on violence visited upon women – sexually, physically, mentally – and their children. Until you see it, until you go to a crime-scene and see the photos and talk to the victims, and you see what’s actually going on, I don’t think you really understand until you can put a name and a face to that kind of hurt and violence. I think it has an effect on any human being who comes in contact with it. It’s had an effect on me, for sure, in all the cases that I’ve done. And we’re seeing more of that in Kelly. That’s what’s going on with him in ‘The Governor’s Wife,’” explained Harvey.

His next novel, slated for a 2016 release, is a standalone that occurs in Harvey’s native Boston, called “Brighton.” It centers around two teen-agers involved in a crime with racial overtones. In the aftermath, one must leave while the other stays. After 25 years pass, 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,” he said.

“Brighton” – named after the working class, blue-collar neighborhood in Boston – has already been optioned by Graham King, who produced 2006’s “The Departed” and 2010’s “The Town” (both of which occur in Boston), and it’s not even been published yet.

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