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Author Matt Goldman talks about moving from standup to TV to crime fiction

Author Matt Goldman in Minneapolis. The former standup comedian who wrote for TV shows "Seinfeld" and "Ellen" is using that most Minnesotan of events for his second mystery novel: the state high school hockey tournament. | AP

MINNEAPOLIS — Matt Goldman was a “literary fiction snob,” a former standup comedian and “Seinfeld” writer from Minnesota who’d never read a crime novel.

Everything changed once he read Raymond Chandler’s stories of private investigator Philip Marlowe.

“Philip Marlowe was a socially observant, comedic voice telling serious stories,” Goldman says. “I thought, ‘Oh, I see how I can use my comedic voice I’ve developed over the decades.’ ”

The result was Goldman’s first novel, 2017’s “Gone to Dust,” a murder mystery featuring Minneapolis private eye Nils Shapiro, a short, 40-year-old Jew with a Scandinavian first name.

Goldman’s new follow-up, “Broken Ice” (Forge, $25.99), has Shapiro trying to solve the mystery of a teenage girl who goes missing during that most Minnesotan of events: the state high school hockey tournament, an event roughly equal to the Super Bowl in the state’s consciousness.

Goldman, 55, switched to crime fiction after working on almost 500 episodes of TV, including the first two seasons of “Seinfeld” and the groundbreaking 1997 episode of “Ellen” in which star Ellen DeGeneres’ character came out as gay, as DeGeneres did in real life.

TV work taught Goldman to keep his stories punchy, with short chapters to push the plot ahead.

“People read mysteries because they want to find out what happens next,” he says. “If you don’t tell them what happens next, you’re not doing your job.”

In “Broken Ice,” Shapiro is hired by the parents of a 17-year-old girl who goes missing during the state hockey tournament. Three bodies later, Shapiro heads to a small hockey hotbed near the Canadian border in pursuit of the killer.

<a href="https://us.macmillan.com/excerpt?isbn=9780765391315" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Click here to read an excerpt</a> of “Broken Ice.”
Click here to read an excerpt of “Broken Ice.”

Goldman got hooked on doing standup when, as a student at the University of Minnesota, his friends took him to a show. Goldman opened for Jerry Seinfeld and other national acts. Urged to go to Los Angeles and try writing, Goldman did so in 1987 and got his big break writing for Seinfeld’s NBC show in 1990-91.

The years that followed included stints at “Love & War,” a sitcom created by Diane English and the Disney Channel’s “Wizards of Waverly Place.”

Goldman has finished his third Nils Shapiro mystery, “The Shallows,” for release next summer and is working on the fourth.

“It’s why I made Nils 15 years younger than me, so I can keep writing them,” he says.