If you're a fan of the ubiquitous Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, you already know the author, Richard Belzer. On the television program, he plays Detective John Munch, known for his dry humor and being often misunderstood. I can relate. Belzer has almost assumed the identity of this character he has portrayed in ten different television series, including The Wire, Arrested Development, X-Files, and Homicide: Life on the Street. The new mystery I Am Not a Cop! is little different from a storyline for Munch on television and, probably, Belzer in real life, described by Robin Williams as, "The Marquis de Sade as a game-show host."
Belzer has written or coauthored two other books, How to Be a Stand-Up Comic and UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don't Have to Be C razy to Believe. In I Am Not a Cop!, his first foray into fiction, Belzer involves himself, detective work, the Russian mob, professional boxing, paparazzi, and diamond smuggling in a fast-paced, non-stop roller coaster ride of quips and bodies instead of cops and robbers. Well, O.K., cops are involved a little. Minimally.
The notions of blood diamonds and Russian border politics make the book so timely, you'd think Belzer had a hand in directing tanks into Georgia. Maybe he did. How unique is it for an author to write himself into the starring role in a fictional portrayal of his fictional role in real life? Makes the head spin. And he makes his hero, himself, say, "I am not a cop. Really. I've just been playing one on television so long that people get a little confused sometimes."
Maybe it's his long history with the entertainment media that enabled him to concoct a story that reads like a film noir of crime looks. See if you can find the echoes of classics like The Thirty Nine Steps, The French Connection, and Rope.
If you're a fan of Belzer or just of his character, Munch, you'll hear the sotto voce jibes in Belzer's voice while he and his unique sidekick, an African American female publicist, try to discover what happened to The Belz's friend, Rudy Markovich, an NYC medical examiner. In the process, but not in processing bodies, they uncover four murders possibly tied to Markovich, who went missing from a prime prize fight and dinner with Belzer (the fictional character).
With a name like that, could the Russians be far behind? No, they are definitely behind a lot of the plot, becoming key players in the mystery. However, the twists and turns the story takes, the surprises that pop up, reminded me of a Coney Island fun house ride gone terribly wrong. Belzer's experiences as a stand-up comic undoubtedly helped him lighten the load of gloominess played out as only the Russians can do it.