I Am Not a Cop! A Novel - Richard Belzer, Michael Black I loved this book. Written by Richard Belzer in collaboration with Michael Black, it is inseparable from Belzer’s persona. Although it is a novel, the protagonist is Belzer himself. A fictional account of a real person is not a new concept. There are novels aplenty about many historical figures, but Belzer’s opus is unique: he portrays himself as a fictional character – with irony and wit.
Just a reminder: Richard Belzer, a TV actor and stand-up comedian, is mostly known for his role of Detective John Munch in Law & Order and the series’ multiple spinoffs. In fact, he made television history as he played that same role for 15 years in 10 different TV shows. Besides acting, he also wrote several other books.
This particular book, his first novel, belongs to the rare fictional genre of comical thriller. Richard’s friend Rudy, a medical examiner for the NYPD and former Russian immigrant, disappeared. A couple days later, Richard receives a letter from Rudy, containing a riddle. The police seem less than enthusiastic to proceed, so Richard decides to take the matter into his own hands. He investigates Rudy’s mystery himself.
As an actor who has played a policeman for 15 years, he knows many New York policemen personally. One of them, Max, a real-life police detective responsible for Rudy’s case, keeps reminding Richard: “You’re not a cop. You just play one on TV. Leave it to the professionals.” Aware that he is not a cop, Richard is still adamant to solve the riddle and find his friend.
As Richard stumbles from one mad escapade to another, the story capers head over heels like a mad TV series, involving a sleazy reporter from a New York tabloid, the Russian mafia, diamond trade, Russian spies, and Chinese martial arts. Disregarding dangers to himself, using everything he knows as a fictional policeman and a real actor – from police procedures to diamond lore – Richard barges ahead in search of his buddy.
Belzer weaves a sophisticated tapestry from its many interconnected threads. As a veteran actor, whenever Richard trips on a kink in the plot line, he moans for the script to learn how the story unravels. As a comedian, he often inserts small comical routines in the midst of his Russian-diamond-mafia conspiracy. And as a writer, Belzer populates his tale with various menacing secondary characters, tangling the plot considerably, before it is resolved in the last chapter.
With self-deprecating humour and real finesse, Belzer paints his imaginary self-portrait: a suave actor, a bumbling comedian, and a home-made hero. The only sour twist in this delightful mix of genres is the writer’s handling of Russian words and names. They are often jarring for a Russian ear. One would think that such a well-known performer and author would make an effort and hire a real-life Russian consultant to check the spellings.
On the whole, it is a small price to pay for the pleasure of reading this unusual novel. The action gallops, the intrepid hero valiantly totters through the labyrinth of intrigue, and the reader enjoys the ride in the best thriller tradition.