03 Feb 2012
Lee Goldberg’s McGrave: Tougher than Shaft, more violent than Dirty Harry and harder than your husband to get along with
Jonathan Franzen would spit on this novella. It was written on a computer, probably with Internet access, and published on the Kindle. According to the Oprah-approved author, that means it’s not literature and not meant to last.
“McGrave” is what you would get if a Hollywood screenwriter rammed together John McClain from “Die Hard” and McBain from “The Simpsons” and played straight. Imagine the comedy stylings of Leslie Nielsen from “Airplane!” and you get the idea.
So Lee Goldberg is one of my favorite authors. I’ve known him for years ever since, when I was committing book reviewing, I got a copy of his Star Trek parody “Beyond the Beyond” (now self-published and retitled “Dead Space”). So, yeah, he sorta knows who I am and I know who he is, and our relationship is exemplified by the fact that when I wanted to read “McGrave,” I slapped down the purchase price, because I admit I’m cheap, but not that cheap to cage a freebie. I have standards, you know.
Honestly, what I did was download the first chapter, which, considering that this is a novella is pretty damn cheap. But I started laughing so much from the first page that I said the hell with it, I needed a laugh, and bought the book.
McGrave is a cop who disaster attaches to like a limpet. He is the ultimate Ugly American. He’s direct. He curses. He hates foreign food.
“McGrave” was designed like a high-performance car, intended to go fast and scare hell outta people, and Goldberg’s an old-school TV producer and the author of the “Monk” novels, so he knows how to design a story. There’s detection scenes and chase scenes and clashes with authority, and McGrave rumbles through it all knowing exactly what to do next. He doesn’t hate authority or paperwork or his bosses. What he does hate is crime and criminals with a childlike simplicity that would be endearing except to those who get in his way, especially on the road.
McGrave goes after a ring of thieves and after breaking up a home invasion makes an enemy out of the Kraut ringleader. So McGrave heads to Berlin to track the guy down before the guy finds him first. There’s more detection and another car chase and lots of action.
That’s it. “McGrave” is a novella and designed to be a fast read. The verbs are active and in the present tense:
“Impressive, isn’t it?” Russel says.
McGrave squints at it. “What is it?”
“The newest addition to Wallengren’s collection. A three-thousand-year-old chamber pot.”
“So it’s a toilet,” McGrave says.
“McGrave” is loud and dumb and brash and I read it on my Kindle over the course of the evening: while filing papers in the basement, talking with the wife in the kitchen, at the dinner table (we all read at the table). I finished it in bed, and I felt like a kid again, reading the Hardy Boys and wanting the next book.
So Franzen is right: “McGrave” is not literature. But here’s the wiki: literature doesn’t always last. But there’s always room in the world for one more funny book.