Michael is the best-selling author of seven crime novels, The Chicago Way, The Fifth Floor, The Third Rail, We All Fall Down, The Innocence Game, The Governor’s Wife and Brighton.
Michael is also an investigative reporter, documentary producer and co-creator, producer and executive producer of A&E’s groundbreaking forensic series, Cold Case Files.
Michael’s investigative journalism and documentary work has won multiple news Emmys and CableACE awards, numerous national and international film festival awards, a CINE Golden Eagle, two Prime-Time Emmy nominations, as well as an Academy Award nomination. Michael was also selected by the Chicago Tribune as Chicagoan of the Year in Literature for 2011.
Michael holds a bachelors degree, magna cum laude with honors, in classical languages from Holy Cross College, a law degree with honors from Duke University and a masters degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Michael is currently an adjunct professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.
Michael was born in Boston and lives in Chicago.
What do James Mann, Terry Lennox, John J McLaglen and Thom Ryder have in common? And also William S Brady, JB Dancer or Jon Hart? The answer is that they were all, in a manner of speaking, honoured earlier this year with the most prestigious award in British crime writing. The author who actually picked up the Crime Writers' Association Diamond Dagger was John Harvey, but they all played their part in his success, although you shouldn't feel too bad if you've never heard of them - they are just some of his many pseudonyms.
The Diamond Dagger is the CWA lifetime achievement award for "sustained excellence in the genre", but it is no slight to say it was awarded to Harvey for the last two decades of his career. During this time he has created a series of memorable protagonists, most notably the jazz-loving, Nottingham-based Pole Charlie Resnick, but also retired footballer Jack Kiley and weary Frank Elder emerging out of his Cornish fastness to return to Nottingham and his own past. Before Resnick, Harvey operated under many noms de plume in the brutally commercial world of pulp fiction. He wrote novelisations of films - One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing, Herbie Rides Again; mercenary action stories, racy teen fiction - What About It, Sharon?, Don't Forget Our Sundae Date; biker books, skinhead stories and westerns.
There is a distinguished lineage of writers who cut their teeth in pulp, and one of Harvey's heroes, Elmore Leonard, made the same move from westerns to crime. But it wasn't until coming up with Resnick in the late 1980s, several years after he had left his pulp career behind, that Harvey really began to think about his work as something more than purely commercial. "Up until Lonely Hearts  I had just been charging ahead," he explains. "That was what I did. But for some reason, with Resnick, I got my head up and began to think about what I was writing."
The first 10 Resnick novels were published between 1989 and 1999, and he returns next month - "nearing retirement he is hauled back to the front line" - in Cold in Hand (Heinemann). Along with the Elder and Kiley books, as well as other stand-alone novels and stories published before and after, they have combined to produce a deeply satisfying and subtle picture of contemporary Britain. Harvey's cast of characters, impressive in its range and depth, has provided an ongoing organic depiction of contemporary concerns from tabloid fears of child abuse, drug dealing, gang culture and Asbos, through societal debates about the homogenisation of the high street and the state of the NHS, to global controversies such as CIA rendition flights.
When it was first pointed out that he might be providing a rather sophisticated socio-economic picture, Harvey says he was "sceptical, to say the least". Initially he thought it was highly pretentious to make such claims for a fairly standard police procedural. But as the Resnick series went on, he "became more persuaded that there was something in it, and of course that became more important to me". He thought about it a little more and concluded that it was not really so surprising. "So much of British crime fiction goes back to the realist documentary tradition of British television and film . . . things like Z Cars and Ken Loach and Alan Plater. You can trace it back further to the second world war and Humphrey Jennings." That kind of TV and documentary is, he says, "what I grew up with".
Harvey was born in 1938 "just round the corner" from his current home in Tufnell Park, north London. Both his parents left school at 15. His father worked in the clerical section of Shell Mex - "it sounds incredible now that he spent a career totting up columns of figures all day"- and his mother was in the rag trade. She eventually became a shop manager and buyer.
He has the classic writer's background - he was an only child who suffered from asthma and pneumonia, "so I was alone for a long time with my books. I remember my father taking me to a bookshop in Kentish Town to buy copies of Biggles. And I really liked Alison Uttley's Rabbit books, which I was given when I was five." He has passed them on to his youngest child. Harvey has grown-up twin children from his first marriage and now a nine year old, Molly. "It is perhaps foolish in a way to father a child when you're 60, but it has been wonderful. And second parenthood is so different. I just worked all the time first time round, but I had a year off writing after Molly was born and now our routines fit together. I start writing early in the mornings, take her to school, work until lunchtime and then knock off and go for a walk before picking her up."
His first career was teaching English and drama in Andover, Stevenage and his adopted hometown of Nottingham. "Nearly all the boys left to go down the pit and most of the girls worked in hosiery factories. It was real DH Lawrence stuff, which I read then and still do with some sense of awe. It's impossible to write about Nottingham and not admire him." But, he says, you can have too much Lawrence, which is when he turns to Hemingway "as a sort of purgative to clean out my system. It seems such simple and straightforward language, but it isn't. The first chapter of A Farewell to Arms is only two and a bit pages but there is almost every variety of sentence structure. It is incredibly artful writing, and part of the art is disguising that it is artful."
Harvey became head of department while teaching - "I rather enjoyed the organisational stuff" - and says he was "quite strict and stroppy" at the same time as embracing progressive thinking in education. "I bumped into a former pupil not so long back who said the thing he remembered about me was playing Sgt Pepper to my class. That summed up English teaching in the late 60s. I was idealistic about the comprehensive project and had a messianic enthusiasm for the arts and creative writing and music. But I was also insistent on spelling and using apostrophes in the right place. Both things were important."
By the mid-70s, after a dozen years as a teacher, Harvey began to fear he might get stuck in the profession, but his move into writing came almost by accident. He had a friend who wrote some of the biker and skinhead books that were so popular at the time. "It was very busy and very lucrative, and when he didn't have time to do one of these Hell's Angels books, he asked me to have a go. He helped me with the outline, then I wrote it under the name of Thom Ryder and was paid £250."
Harvey wrote another book in the next school holidays, and when he was commissioned once more, he resigned his job to write full-time under a blizzard of pen names. He soon found himself producing westerns, which was like "going back to my childhood and getting paid for it. I knew the Buffalo Bill stories off by heart. And I had a lot of pride in what I was doing. I was very professional in that I always delivered on time, but I also played around with the narratives of westerns and put in little bits to please myself. I wrote 40 or 50 books in five years and in effect I was paid to practise. You really do learn how to do it."
Although he was producing pulp, the more rarefied side of his nature was catered for as editor of Slow Dancer, his magazine and press, which published contemporary poetry, including early work by Simon Armitage and the first British book from the American poet Sharon Olds. For a time his income from writing westerns subsidised it, but the press eventually went under in 1999. By then the westerns had long dropped out of vogue and like Leonard before him he had to look for other markets.
Harvey began to write for television, adapting classic series, notably a BBC series of Arnold Bennett's Anna of the Five Towns, as well as "popular stuff" such as Spender and radio drama. A breakthrough was a series set in the probation service based on the US cop show Hill Street Blues in that it was multi-narrative with the characters' personal life mixed up with their gritty work. "And I wrote Lonely Hearts off the back of that. I wanted another go at crime novels and I had this central character, Charlie Resnick, within a multistrand story line."
He says the only books he is embarrassed by are four crime novels he "rashly" wrote under his own name which were "too much under the influence of Chandler, with lots of extended metaphors and jokes and puns. Chandler is a terrible mentor because he can do it, but when you try it falls apart." With Lonely Hearts his exemplar was Leonard, who "was going through a really good spell then. La Brava is a wonderful book. He trusts his dialogue and allows for the fact that if a character is a photographer there is a lot of information about photography. I've tried to do that to a greater or lesser degree ever since. You put in the stuff you are interested in - photography or film noir or abstract expressionism - and the crime is almost incidental." He still picks up a Leonard book now and again to "read a scene or two because I love hearing his people talking to each other". Leonard repays the compliment, comparing Harvey to Graham Greene, "a stylist who tells you everything you need to know while keeping the prose clean and simple".
He has continued writing absorbing plots that also, "and I hope it doesn't sound too pretentious, give a picture of what a post-industrial, medium-sized city, Nottingham in this case, is like. It's the sort of thing the French love and always ask me about. All their questions are about the politics of Britain rather than the crime."
He returns to the realist TV tradition in making the distinction between reflecting the world rather than attempting to change it. "An episode of Z Cars about homelessness would bring the issue to the forefront of debate, but it's not quite the same as Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home, in which homelessness is the subject of the piece. I prefer my politics to be just in the air in which a really good story breathes. You see I really believe in the power and possibilities of this genre. I can't overstate how proud I was to get that Diamond Dagger. There is nothing wrong with telling a good story well. And if you can say something about the world at the same time, that's not a bad achievement."
Buffalo Bill Wild West Annual 1950 by Arthur Groom & Denis McLoughlin
La Brava by Elmore Leonard
The Rainbow by DH Lawrence
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Thelonious Monk plays Duke Ellington