I really don’t know what to make of Mr. CSI, the new memoir from the TV show’s creator Anthony E. Zuiker. The book, which was written with Todd Gold, doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Is it a straightforward memoir? A behind the scenes look at a modern television phenomenon? A scrappy self-help book? A primer on surviving your dysfunctional family? Mr. CSI: How a Vegas Dreamer Mad a Killing in Hollywood One Body at a Time (Harper, $27) contains elements of all those things, but despite its best intentions, it never transcends its mongrel pedigree. On the plus side, Zuiker was raised in Las Vegas, so there’s plenty of local appeal.
Mr. CSI has a grim hook. In 2005, on the same night CSI: Crime Scene Investigation received a People’s Choice Award for Best Drama, Zuiker’s estranged father, Eddie, committed suicide. Zuiker and Gold use that moment to jump-start their book, cutting back and forth between Zuiker’s trips from Los Angeles to Vegas to claim the body and make the necessary post-mortem arrangements. What follows is a series of autobiographical flashbacks, all of which shed significant light on Zuiker’s formative years and explain not only his poor relationship with his father, but key events that fueled Zuiker’s drive to succeed.
Zuiker wastes no time establishing the reasons behind his estrangement from his father, a somewhat shady schemer from Chicago who moved his young family to Las Vegas in 1970 with some grand, mostly unrealized dreams of success. After divorcing Zuiker’s mother in 1971, Eddie drifted in and out of his son’s life until Zuiker finally wrote him off at age 16 after a disastrous visit. 1970’s-era Las Vegas is worlds away from the city it is now, and Zuiker has plenty of stories to tell about the city he grew up in, not all of them bad.
In 10th grade, Zuiker chose speech (also known as “forensics”) as an elective, and the combination of writing and public speaking skills formed the foundation for his later achievements. Zuiker was no overnight success, and he does a good job of documenting his frequent personal and professional setbacks. Zuiker is perfectly blunt about his low points, and Mr. CSI is filled with memories of everyone who offered encouragement, along with everyone who chewed him out.
In his postscript, Zuiker admits he wanted to write a self-help book explaining how he went “from driving a tram at the Mirage Hotel for eight bucks an hour (at age 26) . . . to creating the most profitable franchise in TV history.” It should come as no surprise that Zuiker has no answers, no sure-fire formula for success. Fans of CSI, residents of Las Vegas and aspiring writers and producers will surely appreciate Mr. CSI more than other readers, who will find the book well-intentioned but lacking real substance. ★★☆☆☆