(I read this book back when it first came out, under its original title THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE. Lee has just reissued it as an e-book with a new title and new cover, so if you haven't read it yet, you definitely need to. Here's what I had to say about it back in August 2005.)
Lee Goldberg is best known, of course, as a television writer and producer, as well as the author of the very active blog A Writer’s Life. But he’s also a novelist, and his latest, THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE, is well worth your attention.
It’s the story of Harvey Mapes, a security guard at an exclusive, gated Southern California housing development. Harvey is also a fan of mystery fiction and spends most of his hours in the guard shack reading old paperbacks and wishing he could be more like Travis McGee. Harvey’s life changes when he is hired by one of the residents of the development to do some amateur private detective work and finds himself involved in something that at first glance would be right at home in one of the old Gold Medal novels he’s read.
This book starts out as a fine example of the humorous “lovable schmoe” school of detective fiction, and Goldberg does a good job with that part of it, but then it takes a sudden turn into darker and more dangerous territory and becomes even better. The plot becomes more complex and so do the characters, and while Goldberg plays scrupulously fair with his clues, nothing and nobody turns out be exactly that they seemed at first. Add to that some very smooth prose and a sense of compassion for the people he’s writing about, and you’ve got one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. Highly recommended.