Lee Goldberg is the prolific author of a number of long running crime series and also responsible for a number of TV shows including Monk and Diagnosis Murder. In Calico he tries out a bit of a genre mash. There is definitely a crime procedural element here. But Calico is also a bit of a western and a bit of a science fiction novel. While disbelief needs to be well and truly suspended, Goldberg has the chops to deliver engaging characters and an enjoyable ride for readers.
Ex-LAPD detective Beth McDade is doing her time as an investigator in the sleepy town of Barstow California. Nearby Barstow are two army bases and the replica mining town of Calico, a reconstructed tourist attraction based on the actual town that flourished there during a silver rush in the 1880s. Beth’s world is shaken up when a man is run over by an RV outside a diner near Calico. The man’s antique clothing and appearance is not the only strange thing to happen on the same night which also includes another man (and his car) going missing. McDade starts to find details about the two cases that do not add up and butts up against the interest of the military. At the same time, and for reasons that connect to McDade’s investigation, Goldberg takes readers to Calico during its boom years.
Goldberg is aware of the traditions he is drawing on and includes a bit of lampshading of other books and movies that have used a similar conceit and just the hell of it has fun with the idea of alien conspiracy theories along the way. The trick with Calico is not to go we with the flow and not to think too deeply about any of it. Overall, Goldberg delivers pure, fun speculative fiction deftly anchored by fascinating historical detail and some well deployed crime genre conventions.