Shelf Life

Shelf Life: 'The Innocence Game'

2013-05-30T00:00:00Z 2013-05-31T10:36:06Z Shelf Life: 'The Innocence Game'Jane Ammeson Times Correspondent
May 30, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Author Michael Harvey was in the middle of writing a new book in his series about Michael Kelley, a hardboiled Chicago private investigator, when he started working on another mystery (only Harvey takes a break from writing to write) about three Northwestern University journalism students titled "The Innocence Game" (Knopf 2013; $24.95).

The book tells the story of three students, enrolled in the school’s Innocence Seminar, an exclusive class that investigates wrongful convictions and cold cases, who have a case of their own they want to probe — the decades old murder of a 10-year-old boy whose body was found in a forest preserve a mile away from his home on Chicago's west side. The man convicted of the crime was murdered in prison but two clues were sent to the home of one of the students — a scrap of blood-stained cloth and a hand-written confession indicating that not only is the real killer still alive but may be someone they know. As they investigate, the threesome becomes involved in a swirl of deceit, corruption and murder.

“Northwestern is known for investigating wrongful convictions and cold cases,” said Harvey, a Chicago resident, partner in The Hidden Shamrock Bar and Restaurant, as well as the co-creator, writer and executive producer of the Prime Time Emmy-nominated television series "Cold Case Files" and a former investigative producer for CBS in Chicago. “As a documentarian producer, I’d done of lot of cases about wrongful convictions.”

Some of these cases helped form the plot for "The Innocence Game" including the case of Odell Barnes, whose trial for murder took place before the prevalence of DNA testing. Barnes was convicted of murder and executed in Texas in 2000. Harvey sees a conflict between prosecutors and forensic scientists being on the same team.

“The criminal justice system should be separate from the forensic scientists,” he said. “There should be independent scientists. In a lot of countries like Canada, there’s a big division between the two.” Harvey, who has a bachelor's degree in classical languages from Holy Cross College and law degree from Duke University, worked for a big Chicago law firm for a few years but left it to pursue journalism and writing.

“I was all about being passionate,” said Harvey who returned to school to earn a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University. “And I wasn’t passionate about law. I wanted to have a life that interested me. I remember thinking I could write fiction but I didn't have enough voices at that point and I decided that journalism would be a great place to get different perspectives and so that’s what I did."

FYI: (773) 883-0304; for more about Michael Harvey, visit

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