Hollywood Station by Joseph Wambaugh

All human life is there - some subhuman too
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The Independent Culture

If it wasn't for writers like Joseph Wambaugh, we probably wouldn't now be watching TV series like CSI, NYPD Blue, Homicide, Law And Order, The Shield and the dozens of others that fill our screens night after night. Some might say that would be a good thing, but not me. I lap them up. Can't get enough.

Wambaugh's experiences as a Los Angeles detective led him to write such great novels as The New Centurions, The Onion Field, The Blue Knight, The Choirboys and loads more. I lapped them up too in the Seventies. Ensemble pieces that told the stories of working cops, from the newest rookie on the beat right up to the commissioner of police, that made a rich stew of drama and comedy, tragedy and outrageous behaviour. Some of the film adaptations were successful, others lost the plot entirely. He wasn't the first crime writer to have multiple cops as heroes, but because of his police background he came over as one of the most authentic, and hit the best seller lists hard on both sides of the Atlantic.

Then Wambaugh just seemed to vanish off the radar, and if I ever came across a yellowing paperback, I'd wonder whatever became of him. Retired on his loot, I'd suppose, and replace the volume in the bookcase. In fact, in the 1980s and 1990s he published several books, but none appeared in the UK as far as I can work out. Now Quercus have picked up the baton and run with his latest. Wambaugh's back, and better than ever.

Hollywood Station is the story of just that: a police station that takes care of business in Tinsel Town, with all the problems that that entails. The cops of Hollywood Station, good, bad, young and old, drive the streets of LA trying to stem the tide of violence and drugs. Strange tales abound of the weird and wonderful they meet on their patrols. Junkies, whores, thieves, this novel has the lot. Funny and tragic stories both. Darth Vader exposing himself, Batman taking on Spider Man one on one, with Marilyn Monroes, and three (count 'em) Elvis Presleys as witnesses. Vietnam veterans demanding a free ride in a squad car. All human life is here, plus some subhuman also. Chapter after chapter jumps from radio cars cruising the boulevards to detectives looking into everything from robbery to murder, plus there are tales from the other side of the tracks. Small-time hustlers and major players get equal time in the is book.

But there is an underlying theme to Hollywood Station, a darker, more personal side, as Wambaugh, the ex-LA cop, shows his disgust for the new powers-that-be who label his beloved choirboys as brutal, racist thieves. They are scared of firing their guns for fear of a lawsuit, and their hands are as tightly cuffed by rules and regulations as any suspect they bring in for questioning. It occurs to me that this is the main reason he had for writing the book. And I say good for him. I'm glad he did.