Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Crime Beat Column: Joseph Wambaugh's Hollywood Moon is Another Classic Police Story

As any cop will tell you, the full moon brings out the crazies. And if you are working the streets of Hollywood, California - well, the moon makes them even crazier.

Joesph Wambaugh, a former LAPD detective sergeant, is the grand master of tales about cops, crooks and crime. He once again offers us a novel with stark realism, blunt language and abundant humor.

Hollywood Moon is the last in a trilogy of novels that began with Hollywood Station and continued with Hollywood Crows.

Wambaugh’s three novels cover the lives of the police officers assigned to the Hollywood police station. Wambaugh takes us out on patrol with the officers and we encounter the crazies, the criminals, and the victims of crime on the mean streets of Hollywood. These stories are, in turn, dramatic, funny and sad.

One can read Hollywood Moon without reading the first two novels, but I recommend that you read all three. The two young surfer cops known as Flotsam and Jetsom, ”Hollywood” Nate Weiss, a cop who yearns to be an actor, and other characters from the previous novels return in Hollywood Moon.

We also met new police officers and a creepy cast of criminals. We encounter an odd pairing of street criminals with a smooth-talking black hustler in “dreads” and a “crazy-eyed,” tattooed, big and fat biker. There is a strange young man who is attacking older women, and a pair of criminals truly for our age.

The modern criminal couple are an out of work actor who dons disguises and characters and hires the aforementioned street criminals to pull a variety of scams and thefts, and his overbearing and abusive wife who works on several computers in their apartment, committing identity theft and other high-tech white collar crime.

And the cops have to work the streets under a full moon. As a Hollywood Station sergeant duly notes, the full moon brings out the beast - rather than the best - in Hollywood.

Wambaugh, who said he exhausted his personal experience as a police officer in his first three novels, approaches his novels like a reporter. Before each novel he meets with police officers and allows them to tell their stories to him. I interviewed Wambaugh last year after the publication of Hollywood Crows and he explained his process to me.

“I start out with nothing and I start interviewing the cops at drinks and dining sessions, four at a time, until I get enough anecdotal material, dialogue and ideas to begin writing a story,” Wambaugh said. “I have no outline. I have nothing in mind when I sit down with these cops. Nothing at all. They act, I react.”

Wambaugh said that cops pick up good material in their line of work as they are out on the street, seeing people, doing things, and he quoted his character ”the Oracle’ - the wise old sergeant in Hollywood Station - who said, “Doing good police work is the most fun you’ll ever have in your life.”

Wambaugh’s Hollywood Moon is a thrilling, heart-wrenching and hilarious novel.

You can also read my interview with Joseph Wambaugh from last year here

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