Friday, May 18, 2012

Book Review: King City by Lee Goldberg

From his first published novels - the .357 Vigilante / Jury series - to his latest works, such as The Dead Man #1 and McGrave, Lee Goldberg has shown a great ability to write crime fiction with a wonderfully lurid pen. When I sit down to read one of his stories, I know I'll be in for a heady brew of violence and sex, sleazy criminals and righteous heroes, sexy heroines and a bizarre rogues gallery of side characters. The food is always fattening, the sights are always lit in flickering neon, and the world turns, to a large degree, through the horsepower of grift and graft.

King City is Goldberg's latest crime thriller, and it is an excellent example of his pen at work. Sergeant Tom Wade is the one good cop adrift in a sea of police corruption, a pariah of the worst sort after he sells the entire Major Crimes Unit down the river for a laundry list of illegal activities. His nobility and stalwart adherence to duty costs him his career, his marriage, and all his friends. However, the one thing it doesn't cost Wade is his job; as he has done nothing wrong (technically), Wade isn't fired. Instead, the Chief of Police assigns Wade to a beat in Darwin Gardens, the poorest, most violent, most decrepit part of town, a place so terrible and so embarrassing to the politicians who run King City, they've removed the original name for Darwin Gardens from the city's maps.

Tom Wade knows he's being sent to Darwin Gardens to die. Cops get shot at there all the time; a few years ago, two rookie cops were lured into an ambush, their car and their bodies riddled with dozens of bullets. The police chief is sending Wade on a hopeless, suicidal crusade, knowing Wade's inability to leave well enough alone will ensure his on the job demise at the hands of some low-life scumbag lurking in the shadows of an abandoned factory or tenement house. But Wade has decided that hopeless or not, he's a cop with a job to do, and he's going to make a difference in Darwin Gardens.

Or die trying.

King City is a fast, fun read. The depiction of Darwin Gardens is extremely well done; you can smell the odors of stale urine and dried vomit wafting out of alleyways, you can see feel the texture of worn brick and crumbling cement, and you can taste the air thick with desperation and despair. This is the sort of environment where Goldberg's prose thrives, the sort of world where Wade's new "police station" is a former porno store, where the crime boss of Darwin Gardens likes two thousand dollar track suits and apple pie, and the only restaurant worth a damn is a zany, 50's styled diner specializing in pancakes and smoking hot waitresses.

Goldberg has created an engaging story of one stalwart cop's belief in the righteousness of law, and how the seeds of goodness and decency, even planted in the diseased soil of a place like Darwin Gardens, can give rise to a small flower of hope that a community lost and forgotten for so long can find itself again. If you've found yourself growing tired of the same old police procedural thrillers, I highly recommend King City. Like Tom Wade, I think Goldberg has taken up residence in territory that has grown a bit stale, and he's bringing with him hope for something new and different. If we see more King City books in the future, you can be sure I'll have one in hand as soon as possible.


Tim Mayer said...

Another one for the "To Read" pile.

Lee Goldberg said...

Thanks for the fantastic review!