Carole Tyrrell worked in the theatre for nearly 10 years and was always fascinating by the way death and the supernatural formed many of the greatest and most enduring works. She has read crime fiction for many years and enjoys the broad range of the genre.
This is the latest in the Michael Kelly PI series and is set in the mean streets of Chicago which Kelly has made his own.
There are echoes from Harvey’s previous book, The Third Rail, which become more relevant as it progresses. Michael Kelly is a hard boiled detective with a laconic wit and an ability to be in the thick of the action whilst quoting from Thucydides. He was a Greek historian who wrote about the Plague of Athens. The title, All Fall Down, is taken from the seemingly innocent but actually macabre 17th century children’s nursery rhyme inspired by the Black Death.
The action begins down below Chicago’s streets when the clickety clack of the L train dislodges two light bulbs which fall and shatter on the ground. Unfortunately, they’re not ordinary light bulbs as they contain a deadly pathogen which immediately drifts upwards. One of Mike’s friends, Dr Ellen Brazile, has installed a pathogen detection system on the subway called the Canary for just this scenario but it’s already too late.
Meanwhile, a crooked cop called Donny Quin, is getting his usual kicks by hassling bums and local punks. in the notorious K Town district on the West Side. This time he gets more than he bargains for from one transient and gets a one way ticket to the city morgue to be among the first of many. The city Mayor prevaricates as the bodies begin to pile up. Subway trains become rolling hearses and the West Side gangs are given the green light to torch their neighbourhood and settle old scores. Quarantine is finally declared and then martial law as Kelly is up to his neck in gang warfare, drugs, men in black and the mystery of why a local drug supplier has 10,000 body bags stashed away in his basement well ahead of the outbreak.
Even worse, Mike makes the acquaintance of black biology – manufactured pathogens and superbugs with no vaccines or known cure. Germ warfare on an unprecedented scale.
Although All Fall Down was well-paced and full of action and I enjoyed reading it, I didn’t find it particularly memorable. I liked the way that Harvey introduced the concept of black biology without making it a huge info dump. He’s done his research well. But Harvey didn’t seem to be able to decide on who was telling the story. Kelly narrates and then the story goes into the third person which made me think that you can’t have it both ways. There were also some really jarring descriptions. A co-worker in Brazil’s lab has eyes that resembled ‘two electric bilberries plopped in a couple saucers of heated milk.’ And in another chapter, ‘Then he tightened the skin around his eyes.’ Neither of these had the effect on me that Harvey intended.
I felt that Harvey was still trying to resolve plot elements from ‘The Third Rail’ in this book while trying to control two major plotlines and it didn’t really come off. It seemed that the outbreak thread had run out of steam after Harvey had set things up and that he seemed more interested in writing about the West Side gangs.
This particular book didn’t feel like a goodintroduction to the world of Michael Kelly but I will try another one in the series. Not too disappointing but could have been better.