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Michael Harvey
The Wrigleyville resident's crime novel, The Chicago Way, showcases the city.
Monday Dec 31, 2007.     By Alicia Eler
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

photo: courtesy of Michael Harvey
In Michael Harvey's fast-paced, tension-filled crime novel based in Chicago, The Chicago Way, a new mystery pops up around every corner. When cop John Gibbons asks Private Investigator Michael Kelly to help him with a decade-old case, Kelly agrees; shortly thereafter, Gibbons winds up dead at Navy Pier. Kelly's a suspect, and now he must face his past as a cop—not to mention the mob, a serial killer, slimy friends, and the grit and dirt of Chicago's underbelly. We caught up with Harvey about his new book, which was named one of the top books of the year by Publisher's Weekly.

If I were to come to your neighborhood, where would you insist I visit?
There are a whole bunch of places you could visit. I live about a half-mile from Wrigley Field, so I would insist you visit. One place that's mentioned in the book a couple of times is Intelligentsia [3123 N. Broadway], a great coffeehouse. I actually write there a lot when I'm sick of being at home. And a lot of times when I write—for scenes, especially—I write about whatever comes into my head. I started to describe what was around me when I was at Intelligentsia, and it just ended up becoming a chapter in the book.

What's your favorite hidden gem in Chicago?
I go running along the lake in the morning, before Chicago has woken up. Running toward Belmont Avenue and seeing such a beautiful skyline—that's something of a hidden gem. Going down to the Art Institute during the middle of the week when no one is around—that's something else people who live here often times forget about.

Tell me the best Chicago-related advice you've ever given or received.
When you come to this city, go see a ballgame at Wrigley Field.

Who are you reading?
Right now, I'm about a quarter of the way through Denis Johson's Tree of Smoke. Some say it's the last word on the Vietnam War. I don't know about that, but so far it's wonderful. I don't like to read crime novels that often since I write them, but I recently picked up Donna Leon's Death at La Fenice. Great book. Gives you the feeling that you've been to Venice—or at least makes you want to go.

What's one thing we should know about you that we don't already?
I've been a documentary producer for like 10 years. I worked with Bill Curtis, and together we created a show called Cold Case Files [an A&E series], but I've been a documentary producer on a bunch of different documentaries. And then last summer I wrote this book. So I'm kind of transitioning between documentary and writing novels, and I'm kind of doing a little bit of both. As I'm doing documentaries, I'm out there interviewing and meeting a lot of people, and [that] provides story ideas for the fiction.

You worked as a crime journalist for 10 years, so you've talked with a lot of serial killers. Who was the scariest, and what was it like?
John Wayne Gacy, probably, because he killed so many people just for the sport of it and felt no remorse whatsoever. When I spoke to him, he showed me a dossier on each of the victims…biographies he had compiled, including personal information and pictures of the victims. He gathered this information together for one reason: so he could look through these photos and relive the crimes every day in his cell. That was a rush for him. That was how his mind worked. That was his high. And that's one of the things that made Gacy different.

I think when you sit down with someone who has killed out of anger, you can often see the remorse and the anguish on their face and in their words. Doesn’t bring back the person they killed or make the actions right, but, at least the emotions are human. Not so with serial killers like Gacy. He was very detached in talking about the crime and the victims, often using the pronoun "it" to refer to a victim. He basically killed for sport, to feed his ego and own massive sense of self-importance. Nothing else mattered. No one else mattered…even 20 years later when he was sitting on death row. Definitely a different sort of interview experience.