Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Joseph Wambaugh: The Man Who Invented The Modern Police Novel

As I’ve noted here before, I think Joseph Wambaugh is a brilliant novelist and nonfiction author.  

Joseph Wambaugh, the author of such classic police novels as The New Centurions and The Choir Boys, and classic nonfiction books as The Onion Field and Fire Lover, has secured his place in American literature.  

I’m thankful that I’ve been able to interview the former LAPD Sgt. and best-selling author on numerous occasions. I’m also thankful that I’ve been able to correspond with him over the years. 

I happened to come across a fine essay about Joseph Wambaugh by Kevin Mims at Quillette:

 In 1971, at the age of 34, Joseph Wambaugh, published his first novel, The New Centurions, while he was still an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. The story followed the fortunes (and misfortunes) of three LAPD rookie cops, all of whom joined the force together in 1960, the same year that Wambaugh did. The book was published in January, and by February 7th, it was the 10th bestselling work of fiction in the country. By March 28th, it had jumped to the third spot, surpassing Erich Segal’s Love Story, which had dominated the list for 57 consecutive weeks. Not until October 3rd—eight months after it first appeared on the list—did Wambaugh’s novel finally fall out of the top 10.

But The New Centurions was more than just a commercial blockbuster; it was also an important piece of American literature. And it remains as relevant today as it ever was. It is a story of police brutality, racism, public unrest, systemic rot, poverty, and the seemingly everlasting tension between American police departments and the communities they are supposed to protect and serve. Ernest Hemingway once declared that, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” You could just as truthfully assert that all modern cop literature comes from one book by Joseph Wambaugh called The New Centurions. In fact, plenty of knowledgeable people have made that claim, including Michael Connelly, creator of the Harry Bosch novels, who wrote, “Joseph Wambaugh is the master of the modern police novel—no, scratch that, he invented the modern police novel.”

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

You can also read some of my pieces on Joseph Wambaugh via the below links:

Paul Davis On Crime: My Washington Times On Crime Column: A Look Back At Joseph Wambaugh's 'The Onion Field'

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