Monday, November 24, 2008

An amplified autobio

kw: book reviews, fiction, mystery

I've never watched Law & Order, so the face on the cover meant nothing to me. But the title was intriguing. I am Not a Cop! is by Richard Belzer, who plays a detective on the TV show, "with Michael Black", Belzer's co-author and a seasoned policeman.

As the author makes clear in his Epilogue, the story and all characters are fictional, except that he lent his name and something of his personality to the lead character. That character is well-read, and often quotes an old book or movie…kinda reminds me of Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek, who also had an apt quote or two per episode.

The caper starts off with a missing friend, a Russian emigré who is at the point of retiring from being Medical Examiner. There is a surprising plot twist (one of the few I didn't see coming) regarding the missing man, so I'll take this in another direction. The story involves the involvement of the Russian mafiya in the diamond trade, and the very down-on-the-street aspect of the international shenanigans involved in laundering "conflict diamonds".

The Belzer character is something of a martial-arts expert, so there is a bit of rough-and-tumble every couple of chapters. There are also humorous scenes at the dojoun or school where he works out. The aging former movie star in old Kung Fu flicks, the proprietor's grandfather, has the part of the wise master…with a dash of John Wayne thrown in.

While it is the stock understanding that a smaller man can vanquish a larger one using martial arts, it is not so well known that this is only true if the larger man is entirely ignorant of fighting. Otherwise, a back-room rule applies: twenty pounds of muscle is worth two belts. That is, the bigger man will still win. The fight scenes lack versimilitude because of too much explainery. Anyone in a real fight who has to think it through that much, will lose. Fighting successfully is a matter of reaction, not analysis.

Every amateur detective needs a sidekick, preferably an attractive young woman. This one is Kali, a smart black woman with an attitude, who has been assigned by the studio to keep Belzer from getting into too much real-life trouble when he's off playing amateur cop as he tries to find his friend. She is soon recruited to take an equal part in the troublemaking. Just for spice, a similarly lovely Russian woman gets involved. It appears the missing M.E. has a long-lost daughter who also hopes to find him.

Flaws aside, the book is a page-turner, and for me, a welcome reprieve from the recent steady diet of nonfiction.

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