Crime Time: Wambaugh’s Great New Novel
by Jim Menick
If I had to pick the best books about cops being published these days, I wouldn’t hesitate to name Joseph Wambaugh’s “Hollywood Station” series. I recommend you put the latest in the series, Harbor Nocturne, near the top of your summer reading list.
Joseph Wambaugh knows of what he writes. His father was a police officer, and Wambaugh himself worked his way up to the rank of detective sergeant in the Los Angeles Police Department before turning to crime (writing) fulltime.
The author of The Onion Field, The Choirboys, and The Glitter Dome, Wambaugh started his most recent series in 2006 with Hollywood Station. Harbor Nocturne revolves around the LAPD’s Hollywood division, with recurring characters like the surfer cops Flotsam and Jetsam, the part-time actor Hollywood Nate Weiss, and the rather passive night-watch detective Compassionate Charlie.
The cops tool around in their squad cars—their “shops”—and encounter the desperate, the nutty, the sublime, that entire mix of the scene on the streets of Hollywood.
The incidents are based on real working cop stories, and it shows. The big crimes that propel the story are never master plots by devious criminal geniuses, but dumb capers pulled off by drug users and con artists that simply get out of hand.
While their humor is rich, the books also demonstrate that police work isn’t easy, and it’s never safe. Real harm can come from out of nowhere, just like that.
Moreover, the gritty language isn’t for sensitive readers.
That said, you can’t go wrong with these stories. The last person I recommended them to ended up reading them one right after the other nonstop and thanking me profusely. Wambaugh is masterful at handling series issues, so you won’t be lost no matter where you start in the series. But I’d start at the beginning as long as you get to Harbor Nocturne before summer’s end.