In Hollywood Station, Joseph Wambaugh returns to the stomping grounds he staked out thirty-five years ago with his first novel, The New Centurions (1971). In that book and later ones such as The Blue Knight (1972) and The Onion Field (1973), Wambaugh portrayed the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the city it serves in a fresh and exciting way. A member of the LAPD from 1960 through 1974, Wambaugh brought unprecedented authenticity to his work. Whether writing fiction, as in The New Centurions and The Blue Knight, or nonfiction, as in The Onion Field, Wambaugh was able to translate his personal experience and that of his confidants into compelling and convincing stories about police work and street life in the unique urban environment that is Los Angeles. In addition to their stark realism, Wambaugh’s books displayed considerable literary merit. Though eminently readable, they were stylistically sophisticated and thematically rich, neither idealizing nor vilifying the LAPD. Wambaugh clearly had affection and sympathy for his fellow law enforcement officers. Rather than whitewash the LAPD, however, he included lazy, inefficient, and even dishonest cops in his account of police performance. Apparently, Wambaugh thought that he could better respect and honor his mates by telling the truth as he saw it. Likewise, Wambaugh’s lawbreakers were not the super>sadistic villains of action movies. Rather, they reflected the full range of humanity. Some were just struggling to get by. Others were predatory and dangerous. None were one-dimensional or morally simple. Wambaugh also seemed to have a clear understanding that books about police work are actually books about the state of our society. He did a good job of putting crime into the context of society at large, understanding that law enforcers and lawbreakers are part of the greater social structure. Finally, humor played a prominent role in Wambaugh’s work, especially his fictional LAPD. This included the author’s grimly ironic observations on the human condition as well as the bawdy blue-collar wit of the cops themselves.
Though it has been many years since he wrote about the LAPD, Wambaugh repeats this formula with considerable success in Hollywood Station. Times have changed and the LAPD is under federal supervision following the 1991 Rodney King beating and subsequent scandals. Understaffed and under the proverbial microscope, the police of the Hollywood station struggle to do their job in what they see as a perversely hostile environment. Trying to hold everything together is The Oracle, a sage sergeant and shift commander who, after decades of service, has the complete loyalty of the rank and file officers in his charge. These include a colorful cast of characters such as Fausto Gamboa, a grizzled patrolman grappling with changes in the LAPD’s culture (and being forced to partner up with a young female officer); Budgie Polk, a new mother, divorced, bucking the female-wary ethos of her fellow officers; Mag Takara, a fearless little dynamo of a female cop; Flotsam and Jetsam, free-spirited surfer cops; “Hollywood Nate” Weiss, an experienced patrolman very much caught up in the glitter of old Hollywood, seeking a career in the movies; and Wesley Drubb, a rookie cop from a rich family, looking for more action than is routinely...
(The entire section is 1379 words.)