Thursday, February 02, 2012

BOOKS: McGrave by Lee Goldberg

Lee Goldberg has answered one of my prayers. A new lawman-in-new-territory series.

As a youngster, I enjoyed the aw-shucks routine of Dennis Weaver as Marshall Sam McCloud, a Taos, NM lawman 'stuck' in New York City, seemingly there to bedevil NYC Chief of Detectives Peter B. Clifford and to befuddle every villain who mistook his easy-going demeanor for not being up to the task.  A decade later, I fell in love with Glynis Barber, just like Michael Brandon, who played brash NYC detective James Dempsey, temporarily assigned to London and a partnership with Barber's Harriet Makepeace, in the British-made Dempsey and Makepeace. Almost TWO decades later, the same basic NYC-to-London transfer was tried with Fox's late, very, very lamented Keen Eddie, as played by Mark Valley. Since it went off the air in 2004, the genre has been left awaiting a new shining example.

Enter Tidal Wave McGrave, a TV pilot turned into a novella by Goldberg, author of the Mr. Monk series starring the fictional TV detective and a host of other bemusing mysteries and the several stand-alone action thrillers. McGrave is everything I've been waiting for. The L.A. detective ends up across the pond, bringing American bravado to the streets of Berlin, Germany. And it makes me wish the pilot had gone ahead and become a series. Very much. I've already cast the parts of many of the key players, including Valley in the starring role of the destruction-prone McGrave. 

There's a pretty German detective and her teenage son (think Noa Tishby for the mom and any early teens kid from Disney TV) and a super-smart German baddie, scurrilous enough to kill a dog and smart enough to evoke memories of Alan Rickman in Die Hard. I like Alan Cumming for the part. The last main part is for the detective's boss, The Duke, who is obsessed with John Wayne. Somehow, I keep picturing Wayne Knight as the guy, but I'd search high and wide for anybody who could combine that Duke-fixation with John Banner's deadpan delivery from Hogan's Heroes. He's the real new character, a boss that highly endorses rather than endures, the stranger in town. Or, why not just employ Germany's hottest actors and actresses in roles other than Valley's? Goldberg has a LOT of experience working in the German TV and movie community.

The plot for McGrave involves high-tech robbers and lots of car chases and crashes. All very visual and very entertaining. McGrave is as rough and tumble as the best of the anti-heroes, racking up an impressive list of arrests and and an equally bewildering amount of property damage. In his last case in L.A., he stops a robbery at quite a price, including the death of his beloved dog. Plus, the bad guy I want Cummings to play escapes back to Germany, where he's also mid-way through yet another crime. McGrave heads to Berlin to stop the crook as much for his threat against McGrave's family as for his needing to close the case. He partners up with Maria and the two of them end up saving the day, while engaging in a car chase with a SmartForTwo car that would make Steve McQueen's ghost smile. Along the way he forges a bond with Maria's son Erich, dispensing some much-needed manly advice.

Now, this novella isn't perfect. You don't get much present tense writing these days and I wonder if it would have benefited from changing that. Also, this isn't Mr. Monk we are talking about. Goldberg's on record as enjoying taking off the straitjacket of writing for a PG13-rated audience with this work. And if a bit of foul language will stop you, then read no further. But it's not over the top, so I enjoyed it anyways. There's a fair bit of German sprinkled through the book (my actual first language, but long forgotten) and some admitted liberties taken with the Berlin geography which might, or might not, get in the way of any reader. But all of that is stylistic. The content makes this a first-rate, one-night read. For me it's a five-star implementation of a five-star idea.

Danke, Lee.

NOTE: The review is from an advance reader's copy provided by the author, which was titled Tidal Wave McGrave at the time. I believe that this novella is a Kindle exclusive at this time.


Lee Goldberg said...

Thanks for the fantastic review!


About T.K. Millin said...

Great review and because of it, I will be checking out McGrave. Was a big fan of McCloud growing up and am a sucker for detective stories.