Lee Goldberg is the author of the Monk novels based on Adrian Monk, one of the more colorful detectives ever put together. If you don't know, Monk is a brilliant man beset by just about every obssessive-compulsive behavior possible. This story, however, is not about ADRIAN Monk. It's about a distant relative, Artemis Monk who solves crimes (in his spare time) in a California gold rush town that's still in its unclean infancy.The story is told by Mrs. Guthrie, his assistant.
The main crux of the story is how a town drunk who literally pisses about town (to Monk's grief) was able to sell a land claim that seems to contain plenty of gold now, but had previously been determined to be barren. As the town's only assayer, Monk can testify about the former barrenness. As Monk, he can figure out what crime was committed to make the land have more gold in it now.
I'll have to say I hadn't thought of the solution ahead of time which is always a good sign, but this story is more than just a good puzzle (or two, Monk also quickly wraps up a murder - his powers are prodigous). It is also a good portrait of a mining town and its inhabitants, paying particular attention to the dirt. More importantly for me, the story had me laugh out loud a couple of times, and that is a terribly difficult thing to do on paper. Most funny lines die once written down, but not in Goldberg's hands. That's magic. Well worth the price of the latest Ellery Queen.