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Book Review: Hollywood Station by Joseph Wambaugh

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After retiring from the LAPD, and after retiring from writing ten years ago, the man who is considered by many to be the father of the modern police novel has decided to start “behaving himself” and go back to writing. We can thank James Ellroy for that: “James Ellroy, the author of Black Dahlia, told me somebody had to write a novel about the LAPD in 2006 — somebody who had the knowledge of how the department was in years past. When it was the police department all others tried to emulate — before it was taken over by the federal government in a civil-rights consent decree, in the wake of the Rodney King event and Rampart scandal. Ellroy said I was the only one with the perspective to do it. … Hollywood is at the center of LAPD. And there are more characters there. Everyone in the world knows that magical world of Hollywood. Or we think we know it.”

Hollywood Station is a 340-page slab of life neatly excised from the day-to-day goings on at this particular cop shop. It’s not just one story, it’s a thousand interconnected stories broken down in 22 chapters with a revolving, recurring cast of characters which make up the men and women of LAPD and the citizens they interact with. The LAPD is like any bureaucracy, full of go-getters and ho-hummers, some people barreling by, some people getting by, and some people squeaking by. The overly aggressive to the overly laid back. You’ve got “choiceamundo” surfers to middle-aged moms and dads, fresh-out-of-the-box rookies to seasoned vets who’ve seen and done it all. Sometimes the mix works like a charm, while at other times the wheels fall off. It’s life in 21st-century America, for better and for worse. Unfortunately, the cops usually see the “worse.”

Hollywood Station has a bunch of different bad guys. They’re interconnected, yet their stories are separate. You have a few tweakers, methamphetamine abusers/addicts whose day-to-day attempts to raise enough cash for just a little more glass takes them into shoplifting, mailbox fishing, theft, forgery, and 50 other felonies and misdemeanors throughout the book. You also get to see a slice of East Bloc criminals whom the media usually classify as “Russian Mafia.” Their clubs, oftentimes nothing more than a front to launder money, and their clientele, are also showcased. And the ever-present street people, those who live there by choice and those who’ve been “cured” or otherwise rejected or deemed harmless by whichever institution released them. And, of course, the victims, sometimes deserving the fates that befall them, most of the time not.

The smaller stories that make up the longer, overall slab of a story in these chapters, range from the bizarre to the sad, the desperate to the hilarious, all a part of the weirdness inside the city limits of Hollyweird, as it’s sometimes called. Or Granolaville, because those that ain’t fruits and nuts is flakes.

Another quote from the Grand Master that gives an excellent profile of the stars of this novel, the cops: “And it’s not just that you deal with the worst people. You deal with ordinary people — at their worst. That’s what breaks down the barrier and creates young cynics. And true cynics are a danger to themselves. Being a young cynic can lead to all sorts of horrendous conduct.”

This from the same man who calls police work fun, and who, in this instance, makes reading fun.

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About Lou Novacheck