Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hollywood Station - Joseph Wambaugh

Hollywood Station is a novel following a multitude of officers and detectives from the Hollywood Division of the LAPD. The one plot line that extends the course of most of the book involves a jewelry theft that results from Crystal Meth addicts fishing mail out of public mailboxes and selling it to a Eastern European couple. There are also a plethora of small sub-story lines throughout the course of the novel.

Some of the main players in this book include two police officers/surfer "dudes" referred to as Flotsam and Jetsam, veteran officer Fausto Gamboa, a new mother officer Budgie Polk, Hollywood Nate - the officer obsessed with being a movie star, Wesley Drubb - the son of a wealthy family who wanted the thrills of being a police officer, and the "Oracle" - the sergeant of Hollywood Division.

I listened to this book on audio. The jacket states that Joseph Wambaugh has published sixteen novels previous to this one and was named the Grand Master in 2004 of the Mystery Writers of America. This is the first book I've heard by Wambaugh and I found myself asking "why?" So, I started reading some other reviews. Several people mentioned that writers such as Connelly, Crais, and Lehane owe a lot to Wambaugh. Based on just reading this book, I'd have to say that's an insane notion.

Wambaugh seems to have a gift with creating his characters. The meth addict Farley was absolutely reprehensible. I truly disliked him. And Fausto I adored despite his curmudgeon exterior. Flotsam and Jetsam were hilarious, but at the same time they confused me. They were obviously exceptionally intelligent young men, so I couldn't figure out why they would act so incredibly goofy. So, there are multiple layers to these characters, a lot of dimension, and I connected with them. But what Wambaugh was thinking with the plot of this novel is beyond me. He obviously doesn't ascribe to Aristotle's belief that all the events need to be connected to the plot.

The plot almost felt like an episode of Cops on television. I kept asking myself, "WHERE's the plot?" It took until disc five to figure out that the diamond theft was supposed to be the main focus of the book. There were so many small vignettes and most of those were left hanging. I was especially disappointed in the sub-plot dealing with the small children left alone in an apartment or when Flotsam and Jetsam fled a crime scene outside their district after shooting a treed suspect with a bean bag gun. There was no focus to the plot, and I wonder if Wambaugh didn't try to shove too many different characters into the book, without really focusing on any one. So instead, the plot ended up going off in all different directions following all these different characters in their day-to-day dealings.

There were several parts that made me laugh hysterically. When Flotsam and Jetsam busted a guy with a bulge under his shirt. They made him raise his shirt and discovered a phone book the guy had taped to his chest - because someone was out to shoot him, and he didn't want to be unprotected! The one area that Wambaugh probably could have left alone was mixing idioms. There are several characters who are Eastern European and most all of them butchered American idioms at one point or another; however, the results weren't very funny even though I got the impression they were supposed to be.

As I mentioned, I listened to this book on audio and Adam Grupper was the reader. I enjoy his readings immensely. He's very talented with voices, and his energy comes through when he reads. He did an outstanding job.

Overall, I think there could have been a lot of potential for a great book here, but the end product didn't live up to that potential. I was extremely disappointed. Due to the fact that Wambaugh does have so many previously published books, I may go back and read something else at some time. But given that my TBR list is so long and I was so disappointed in this book, I don't think it will be any time too soon.


Corey Wilde September 2, 2008 at 9:39 AM  

Okay, I'll scratch this title off my list (I almost picked up a used copy yesterday) but I think I need to read one of his titles. Anyone here that would recommend a particular book by Wambaugh?

Oh, Jen, you should read the blurb Robert Crais has provided for the next Sean Chercover book:

I thought Chercover's first book was terrific, and very much in the Crais / Connelly style.

Jen September 2, 2008 at 10:25 AM  

Thanks for the link, Corey. I am looking forward to Chercover's new book. I liked his first, but have to admit I didn't LOVE it. I may have been expecting too much of it going in, though. I think what bothered me the most was how little the violence seemed to bother his main character. He was always saying, "I'm o.k. with that." Which when I thought about it later might, on a reach, be said about Joe Pike, too, so maybe what Chercover needs is a partner for his protagonist. I think Pike's relationship with Elvis changes his whole personae...do you think I'm completely off my rocker???? :)

le0pard13 September 3, 2008 at 10:30 PM  

Jen, while I haven't read Wambaugh in some time, I keep waiting for him to return to form of his earlier work. As opposed to Robert Crais, whose work in the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series has just gotten stronger as time goes by, JW seems to have gone in the opposite direction--or at least stayed at a level that hasn't attracted me back to his books.

To Corey, as stated, I'm partial to (though they are now dated) The New Centurions, The Blue Knight, The Choirboys, The Black Marble, and my all-time Wambaugh favorite--the true story, non-fiction-- The Onion Field.

Corey Wilde September 5, 2008 at 6:05 PM  

I'll try 'The Onion Field' then, and thanks for the rec!

Jen, the character of Gravedigger Jones strikes me as more of a Joe Pike type than the Dudgeon character. Maybe even a teensy bit too much so, but I'm hoping that Chercover defines him better (and less like Pike) in the next book. Ray is not so much of a knight-errant as Elvis, at least not yet. So...I want Gravedigger to be less like Pike and Dudgeon to be more like Elvis. Yeah, I am so twisted.

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