Fugitive Nights

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

What Joseph Wambaugh brings to the crime novel is a new attitude; his heroes are not the existential loners of Chandler, Hammett, and Ross Macdonald. The cops in Wambaugh’s stories are the walking wounded, scarred not so much physically as emotionally and psychologically, attempting to survive, and to forget, on alcohol and sex. But what also separates Wambaugh from many other writers in the genre is the vein of humor that runs through his work.

Brenda Burrows, a fortyish retired policewoman from Los Angeles, has opened a private detective agency in Palm Springs. To assist her on a domestic relations case concerning a man and his dog, she temporarily hires Lynn Cutter, a near-alcoholic Palm Springs policeman who is awaiting his disability pension.

The man and his dog cross paths with a foreigner who has assaulted a policeman and may be a drug smuggler or a terrorist. Hoping to capture the fugitive and thus be hired as a Palm Springs cop is Nelson Hareem. Fired by almost every police department in Southern California for too eagerly pursuing the bad guys, Hareem is presently on the force of a backwater desert town. The plots and characters come together in a climax which occurs at one of the desert’s famous professional-and-celebrity golf tournaments.

As is usual in Wambaugh’s stories, the magic is found in the dialogue, the eccentricities of the characters, and the settings, which range from the gilt to the dross. President George Bush even has a walk-on part. FUGITIVE NIGHTS is vintage Wambaugh.