Hollywood Moon, By Joseph Wambaugh

Barry Forshaw
Thursday 21 January 2010 01:00 GMT

Is your image of American cops gleaned from such TV shows as CSI? Despite messy private lives, formidable professionals get the job done. Or do you think a more accurate picture is presented in The Wire? Often corrupt individuals are obliged to play a great deal of office politics. If either of these sets of cops are your yardsticks, then you have clearly never read a novel by Joseph Wambaugh.

The author, who served in the LAPD for 14 years, painted a scabrous picture of the kind of men he worked with in such books as The New Centurions and The Choirboys. Wambaugh’s off-the-wall police (and equally eccentric criminals) make just about every other fictional representation look sedate.

Hollywood Moon attains new levels of freakishness. There are the two “surfer” cops, Flotsam and Jetsam, whom we first encounter talking about a detectivewho hires a midget to go bowling with him – as it makes casual sexual encounters easier. Perhaps no odder is colleague “Hollywood” Nate Weiss, whose stillborn acting career has propelled him into the police force. Several fellow cops are locked into destructive sexual relationships with each other.

However, it’s the larger-than-life miscreants who really take the biscuit. The usual collection of drag queens and murderous crackheads begins to seem almost quotidian against the cast of villains here. Fraud artist Dewey Gleason and his sharp-tongued wife, Eunice, make their money by stealing credit cards and looting mailboxes. They decide that it’s time to move into a bigger league, and initiate an ambitious plan for a kidnapping. But they make the mistake of hiring a fellow criminal, whose secret life as a serial sex attacker is to throw a monkey-wrench into their plans.

Both cops and criminals converse in a no-holds-barred, over-the-top fashion that is just lacerating enough to ring true. Hollywood Moon lacks the bite of Wambaugh’s vintage work, but it’s still idiosyncratic and highly individual fare.

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