Perhaps his most ambitious novel to date is Calico, coming November 7, 2023 by independent publisher Severn House. While it possesses all of the exemplary crime-fiction elements perfected by Goldberg, this stand-alone thriller journeys into a unique, untapped resource that's never been used by the 40-year veteran. The end result might surprise you.
Like Goldberg's other Los Angeles detective Eve Ronin, Calico's protagonist Beth McDade has a tumultuous history with the force. After a romantic encounter with a fellow officer, McDade is released from duty and forced to relocate to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. She was warned upon her arrival three years ago, “The interstate here only goes in one direction – away. Nobody wants to be in Barstow and those who do, you don't want to know.”
Barstow, California is where McDade works as one-half of the area's homicide department, prowling a stretch of desert along the Calico mountain range to the north and the Marine Corps Logistics Base to the south, both of which play prominent roles in the book's central story. In between is a variety of military housing, alfalfa farmers, and off-the-grid survivalists residing between fast-food dives and bars. The dismal landscape and dull employment contributes to McDade's spiraling depression, a disorder she routinely treats with alcohol and endless one-night stands with the town's first responders.
Calico's white-knuckle, straight-laced narrative, is an enthralling police-procedural that features McDade working a combination of home-invasion robbery (shades of Goldberg's own Gated Prey), a missing person case, and a bizarre highway death involving an elderly couple. From a surface level, it seems to be routine, by-the-book police business, but the sun-bleached asphalt masks a disturbing secret that mysteriously connects to the town's mining history in the late 1800s. How does a potential murder victim in 2023 connect to events in 1882? This enticing web will ensnare unsuspecting readers with plenty of surprises along the way.
As a fan of Goldberg's writing for some time now, I was pleasantly surprised with Calico's unforeseen curveball. If you enjoy murder mysteries - complete with the obligatory detective tropes, investigative twists, whodunit suspense, and strong female lead – then you already know that few can do it better than Lee Goldberg. However, by combining all of those crime-fiction staples into an unconventional, widely different approach, Goldberg delivers something altogether new, radical and exciting for his readers. Calico is a very clever crime-fiction novel authored by an absolute pro. Highly recommended.