Current reviews
  Reviews by title
  Reviews by author

  Contact Onyx

  Discussion forum


Onyx reviews: Hollywood Station by Joseph Wambaugh

Joseph Wambaugh, the author of such classics as The Choirboys and The Onion Field, returns with his first novel in a decade, and his first LAPD novel in over twenty years. In Hollywood Station, he paints a frank and honest portrait of a group of officers facing the daily grind in a city where weird is normal and everything is tinged by race.

While Ed McBain may have created the police procedural, delving into the lives of charismatic cops solving crimes in a fictionalized version of New York City, Wambaugh is less interested in police procedure or in the cases than he is in the men and women in blue themselves.

Because of missteps in racially charged situations—notably the Rodney King debacle—the LAPD has been saddled by regulations intended to ensure equal treatment of all of the city's citizens. However, this federal oversight is bureaucratically out of touch with reality. To be in compliance, officers must fabricate field interviews to balance the racial cross-section of their daily interactions. If they don't hassle a certain number of non-existent Caucasians in ethnic neighborhoods, they will be accused of profiling.

Hollywood Station is a series of police ridealongs in search of a plot. The first half of the book drifts along aimlessly, relating a series of interesting, but unconnected anecdotes. It's like a long episode of COPS, with more time spent inside the squad car than out. True, there is a loose thread of intersecting crimes that builds momentum toward the end, but it takes a long time for this story to come together and it is abandoned for large sections of the novel.

The best thing for a reader to do, then, is strap in for the ride and eavesdrop. Among the understaffed retinue of Hollywood Station are a wannabe actor with several bit parts but no SAG card, a lactating mother who stops mid-shift to use her breast pump, a pair of surfers (nicknamed Flotsam and Jetsam), the hyper-talkative cop, the veteran, and the rookie. Holding this ragtag team together is a sage forty-year vet they call the Oracle, who has a surprising secret. His wisdom includes pairing his officers in unlikely but successful combinations. The officers are dispatched to trod upon the famous stars on the Walk of Fame from a station where the stars represent officers killed in the line of duty.

On the other side of the law: homeless people—including one with an ingenious defense system against arrest—tweakers, crystal meth addicts who will do anything to get the next fix, including fishing in corner mailboxes—and con artists who dress up like Hollywood icons and badger tourists into paying them for photographs. Plus a Russian mafia comprised of ex-Soviet thugs and some gangster wannabes who get a taste for serious crime after a surprisingly successful diamond heist.

Narrative imperative doesn't drive this book. The real reason to carry on page after page is for the wry sense of humor, the honest insight into the work-a-day lives of the cops, and Wambaugh's resistance to anything remotely politically correct in depicting the truths of the streets of Hollywood.

Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent 2007. All rights reserved.