Wednesday, December 13, 2006

REVIEW: Hollywood Station

In reading “Hollywood Station” you’ll be struck by the dichotomy of young cops and old veterans and I can’t help but wonder if Wambaugh, writing his first novel in a decade, was feeling his age. Despite the lapse in time, Joseph is still the very best author to write in a genre he almost single-handedly created: the “police procedural.” I think it’s significant that the wisest, most senior officer in the station, the aptly named “Oracle” is just about the same age as Wambaugh himself. Coincidence? I think not!

The famed (or notorious) Wambaugh humor is here, wickedly pointed and this time with an overarching target: the Department of Justice consent decree that’s been monitoring LAPD’s every move for going on six years now.

New clichés and slang: “Rover” instead of “HT” or “Brick;” 999 key instead of call box key; dispatch via MDT (Mobile Data Terminal) vs. radio broadcast; and PSR (Public Service Representative – a sort of catch all job description used by dispatchers and, less often, civilian administrative workers).

This is a much different LA from Wambaugh's earlier novels. It’s a multicultural LA – no longer primarily Latino and African-American, but now includes everyone from Muslims to militant Gay activists and transgendered hookers. Store-front police sub-stations feature “… LAPD literature lying around in English, Spanish, Thai, Farsi, and other languages for the polyglot citizenry of the Los Angeles melting pot.” Like the old car commercial – this ain’t your dad’s PD.

The crime that provides the underlying theme for the story is little more than a excuse for weaving together the many gritty vignettes of cop's personal lives and the toll being a “peace officer” extracts in Hollywood, widely considered “the heart of Los Angeles.” I get the feeling that Wambaugh is doing more than presenting the challenges faced by LA’s current cops – he’s expressing his personal amazement that anyone could do this job, or would even want to.

The real villain, Wambaugh makes clear, is the DOJ consent decree that assumes the cops are guilty until proven innocent. Chafing under federal oversight, outraged cops complain that they get more grief from shooting a dog than a person. Wambaugh quotes statistics proving that cops are inventing white, male field interrogations rather than be accused of racial profiling. In other words: the consent decree, rather than increasing the honesty of the street cop, is making them into consistent (though not very convincing) liars. One character wails, “we should be lawyers; they get paid a lot more to lie.”

Wambaugh has a female Detective, Andi McCrea, offer what could be a scathing cop’s eye view of Rafael Perez, David Mack, Nino Durden, the Rampart Scandal and the Warren Commission. There follows withering criticism of LAPD police chiefs Willy Williams, Bernard Parks, and William Bratton though none are mentioned by name. I’m warning you now: this is raw, adult talk and not for the timid: Liberals, democrats, and some minorities are going to be offended. .

That Wambaugh believes that he’s accurately reflecting the view of the rank and file, there is no doubt. In interviews, Wambaugh tells how, without exception, no cop would talk to him unless he guaranteed that he would only take handwritten notes: no tape recorders. They’ve apparently learned the lesson of Mark Fuhrman that even years and years later, any casual comment can destroy a career.

Fans of Wambaugh will be thrilled: he’s honed his art to a razor’s edge and he wields it here with murderous skill. New readers may well be shocked by his frank depictions of the absolute worst that humanity can offer. Those of us who’ve driven a shop (in my day, they were called a “unit”) and worked the street will recognize friends, coworkers and situations.

All in all, this maybe the best of his novels. But be warned: if this were a movie it would earn a hard “R,” if not an “X,” rating for it’s violence, adult language and sexual situations.

Personally, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

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