Lee Goldberg’s has rereleased The Man With the Iron-on Badge as an ebook, hereinafter called Watch Me Die. So why download it onto your Kindle or iPad?
Because it’s pretty damn funny. And it was a Shamus nominee way back when in 2006. Here’s the skinny.
Harvey Mapes is coasting in life. He’s got a cushy gig sitting in a guard shack at a posh development outside Los Angeles. He’s got a friend with occasional benefits in his neighbor Carol, though he’d like more occasions than she does. He reads all the detective novels he wants, and after work, it’s a big dinner at Denny’s.
That is until Cyril Parkus pulls him aside and offers Harvey a job: Follow his wife. So follow Harvey does, boning up on his detective novels to make sure he does the job right. His faves are Spenser, Travis McGee, and Elvis Cole, along with reruns of Mannix. However, Harvey learns the consequences of all those cliches he’s read. Someone is blackmailing Mrs. Parkus, and that someone gives him a beating he’ll never forget. He wrecks his car while tailing her, and…
He witnesses a suicide stemming from the case. It’s at that point, Harvey changes. This isn’t playing private eye anymore. He’s got a thirst for justice, and despite his insistence on learning the ropes from Spenser and Mannix, isn’t a bad detective after all. The change, though it nearly kills him, does him good.
Goldberg is funny in this rip on pop culture, PI cliches, and California culture. You can almost hear some of Ross MacDonald’s indictments of the state (Remember “There’s nothing wrong with Southern California that a rise in the ocean level wouldn’t cure”?) with tongue firmly planted in cheek. And yet the violence gives a serious undertone to what could have been Dude, Where’s My Gun? Harvey changes, and he starts questioning himself. A laugh-out-loud example of what the best PI novels should be.
An earlier version of this review appeared in Reflections in a Private Eye, the newsletter of the Private Eye Writers of America.