Thursday, February 15, 2007

Good, Bad, Weird, Great

Wambaugh Recaptures Hollywood

Book Review:
Hollywood Station by Joseph Wambaugh
Written by Scott Butki
Blogcritics magazine
Published February 13, 2007

There are exceptions to the adage of “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Joseph Wambaugh’s new book, Hollywood Station, is definitely an exception to that rule, with a back cover that contains praise from some of the best crime writers around.
Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, George Pelecanos, all great crime writers in their own right, are joined by Ray Bradbury in praising the author and the book. It is especially telling that the compliments come from Crais and Connelly, two younger writers who are writing book after excellent book about cops and detectives in Los Angeles.

Wambaugh, in his acknowledgements, also thanks “James Ellroy for urging this return to LAPD roots.” Wambaugh was a Los Angeles Police Department detective sergeant before leaving law enforcement work to become a professional writer, winning deserved acclaim for crime classics like The Onion Field and Choirboys.

When some of your favorite writers come together to praise a book it’s time to investigate the item they are endorsing. And I’m glad I did because this is one of the best books about the LAPD I have ever read. I grew up in Southern California, reading fiction and non-fiction about the LAPD both before and after Chief Darryl Gates and Rodney King.

Connelly puts it well in his praise on Hollywood Station's back cover:
I have been waiting a long time for this book, and two pages in I knew it was worth every minute, month and year. Hollywood Station sets the standard once again. A story of cops working the streets at the same time the streets are working the cops, it’s full of the grit, humor, and truth that make it impossible to put down.

As Connelly alludes, this book alternates perspectives between the cops chasing the crooks and the crooks trying to outwit the cops. Both perspectives are insightful and amusing, never too light or too dark. And just as you start to wonder how all of the characters and plotlines are going to intersect, they do in ways that lead into some wonderful scenes.

Hollywood Station has such a variety of interesting characters that it made me think of Robert Altman’s thought-provoking but flawed movie Short Cuts. There are even allusions to bad past police chiefs – one of whom is referred to as Lord Voldemont of Harry Potter fame. I’m guessing that’s a reference to Darryl Gates. Thematically it touches on issues of prejudice it does so without being as preachy as another good but flawed movie, Crash.

As I had moved from the west coast to the east coast almost 10 years ago, this book makes me feel like I have a better idea of what life at Hollywood station is like now versus how it was when I would roam the area en route to concerts.

If you want to read a good, fun police novel that captures life in Hollywood — the good, bad and just plain weird — this book would be a fine choice.

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle.

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