Ex-Chicago cop Michael Kelly pursues a nasty killer in Michael Harvey's crime thriller The Third Rail.

Is there something about Chicago that makes it more corrupt than other big U.S. cities?

If you ever watched the Chicago Bears, you know all there is to be learned about the city. The Bears play smash-mouth football, with an emphasis on smash. Bears fans love defense, and concussions, and watching players from the other team leave the field on a parade of stretchers. Chicago plays by its own rules and keeps its own score. Chicago is going to inflict its pain, take its pound of flesh, and tell you about it all day. If you substitute politicians and politics for “da Bears” and football, you'll have an idea of how the power brokers in this city operate.

How much of an effort have you made to be true to life about the way Chicago works?

I've been an investigative journalist and a documentary producer in Chicago. I think my take on the city's power brokers and the way various layers of media operate rings pretty true. Truth, of course, is a relative term, depending largely on where you sit and how hard you really want to look.

What led you to use the 1977 el crash in The Third Rail?

I was aware of the incident and always wondered how it happened and the effect it had on the people who were walking through the Loop that day. As I got into the details of the accident, I thought it could serve as a nice vehicle for the story's plot line. The first article I read on the crash was the Trib's next day, page-one story, written by a guy named David Axelrod, then a beat reporter, now Barack Obama's right-hand man in the White House.

How did your other work affect your fiction?

Being a journalist and documentary producer has helped me write clearly and with an economy of words. When you write for television, you also learn to write cinematically, to use muscular language and create pictures with language. My background as a lawyer helps most in organizing my thoughts and dealing with complex background material and/or convoluted plot lines. What has helped me the most is my background in Latin and ancient Greek, which made me familiar with some of the best observers of human nature in the history of western civilization. Growing up, I translated all of these guys and wound up absorbing a lot of their ideas.