Onyx reviews: Hollywood Station by
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 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.
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