Richard Belzer is a bad motherfucker. And I’m referring here to Richard Belzer the main character of I Am Not a Psychic!, the new detective novel written by actor/real person Richard Belzer. Like his creator, the Belzer character is an actor on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, but he’s also a part-time, mystery-solving martial artist who has trouble keeping his cell number private. Super famous, he fights off fans at every corner. “Hey, Belz!” the little people say. “Love last night’s episode! Can I grab an autograph?” This book takes place in a funny parallel universe just one jump over from our own, where the real Belzer gets about three or four lines of expository dialogue most SVU episodes while I wonder if Detectives Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler are ever gonna do it. (To be the meat in that sandwich!)
I would have liked to ask the real Belzer about the absurdity of writing such a transparent wish fulfillment and calling it fiction. Must feel good to throw yourself personal compliments through your characters: "Mentioning Richard and Mensa in the same breath is like comparing a Ford to a Rolls-Royce," "I’d heard Paul talk about you all the time. . . how smart you are, how you always can see through the cover-ups."
Of course, the Belzer character usually brushes off these compliments, which would come across as humble, except for the fact that Richard Belzer the person is the one who wrote them in the first place. See how that makes the whole thing crazy ridiculous? Weren’t you a comic once upon a time, Detective Munch? Didn’t you used to make a living out of harpooning this kind of celebrity bullshit?
The rest is fairly typical. An old mystery needs a-solving. A film actress died under suspicious circumstances years ago (Marilyn) while having an affair with a politician from a powerful family (Kennedys). There are mafia guys and a classic Martin-and-Lewis duo that inevitably gets reunited. Both the good and bad guys are all pretty obvious from their opening lines. Actually, it’s slightly less than typical. There’s even a female sidekick who gets transformed into a babe with a between-paragraphs makeover.
Like I said, I would have liked to ask him about all this, but he didn’t call me for our scheduled phone interview. Or our re-scheduled interview. Or our re-re-scheduled interview. When I finally got his number, it went straight to voice mail. So I gave up trying to reach him and began to feel really resentful about having been sent on this wild goose chase. But then I remembered: it’s hard it is to be a celebrity.
Richard Belzer reads from I Am Not a Psychic! at Barnes & Noble, 1972 Broadway, New York, New York, on Thursday, October 15 at 7:30 p.m.