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The Man With The Iron-On Badge Hardcover – October 3, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Approaching the level of Lawrence Block is no mean feat, but Goldberg (the Diagnosis Murder series) succeeds with this engaging PI novel, the first of a new series. Harvey Mapes, an overeducated security guard for a Southern California gated community, is pulled out of his rut when a wealthy resident hires him to tail his wife. Genre readers won't be surprised that this simple assignment turns more complicated, but those who like their mean streets settings to be coupled with a twisty solution will enjoy the surprise ending. While Mapes's rampant sexual appetite may not be for everyone's taste, readers who devoured Block's brilliant Chip Harrison mystery picaresques (which doubled as affectionate pastiches of Nero Wolfe) will find Mapes a worthy (if slightly more mature) successor to Harrison and clamor for more.
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Harvey follows Lauren for a few days and photographs her as she engages in nothing but innocent pastimes which he reports to Cyril. He also observes that she is a very beautiful woman and develops protective or romantic feelings about her. One day he sees her passing money to a strange man. He suspects that Lauren is a victim of blackmail. He follows the blackmailer and is beaten for his trouble. Harvey allows that he is not one of the tough guys like Travis McGee or Joe Mannix. The last time he had a fight, which he lost, was in the fourth grade. He responds to the beating by wetting himself and crying. When he returns home he is comforted by Carol, they have sex and the relationship appears to be evolving into something more serious.
Shortly, with the help of Carol, he discovers the name of the blackmailer, Arlo and reports it to Cyril. Cyril claims not to know Arlo but Harvey suspects that he does. Cyril pays Harvey off with a bonus and tells him that the job is complete. Harvey is not satisfied. His curiosity causes him to continue following Lauren. She leads him to a freeway overpass where she abandons her car. Harvey jumps out of his car and sees Lauren standing on the wall at the edge of the overpass. She makes eye contact with Harvey and jumps into the traffic below.
Harvey is both horrified and dissatisfied by the suicide and is determined to discover the secret that was the basis of the blackmail. To this end he pursues Arlo all the way to Deerlick Washington where the mystery unravels with a wonderful twist. This is a great story with characters and relationships that evolve nicely, an intriguing mystery and painful tragedy. Harvey's self deprecating thoughts and daydreams are both satirical and comical and add a lightness to the darker moments of the tale.
My first Lee Goldberg book was a compilation of the Jury series. I love revenge stories. In my review of that series I said that I looked forward to reading his later work. Always on the hunt for new authors I found something in that series that held my interest. He reminds me somewhat of Lawrence Bloch. This is my second (or fifth) Goldberg book and I am pleased to discover that the promise of the Jury series has been fulfilled and also that Goldberg is prolific. Goldberg is a writer and/or producer of many of the better TV series, including the wonderful Monk series, and a number fiction and nonfiction books. As I have with many authors I will probably read them all.
The plot has many twists that keep you guessing - Harvey learns quickly that you don't bounce back from real wounds like Hollywood detectives, and the line between good and bad sometimes gets faded.
Did not like the book's ending.
Will reserve judgement on the series until book 2.
The Man with the Iron-On Badge by Lee Goldberg is a classic PI novel full of great lines and twists and turns with a touch of the Rockford Files and The Big Lebowski about it. There are loads of references to PI novels that I've never read but it didn't stop me enjoying it very much.