A gripping thriller

2008-03-19 00:00

This thriller comes laden with accolades, not just for its content but because it marks Joseph Wambaugh’s return to writing about what he knows best: the cops of the Los Angeles Police Department.

The last time he took a spin round this particular precinct was in 1983’s Delta Star.

Wambaugh is credited with virtually inventing the gritty cop procedural, which in turn influenced the creation of landmark television series such as Hill Street Blues and its many successors. (Do I hear somebody shout: “What about Ed McBain?”).

As well as fiction, Wambaugh — a former marine and LAPD officer — is also known for his “true crime” titles, notably The Onion Field, about the kidnap and murder of a plainclothes LAPD officer, and The Blooding, which deals with the first use of DNA to catch a killer.

Hollywood Station fields an ensemble cast of cops going about their daily business — an approach that allows Wambaugh to portray a variety of scenarios, from the gruesome to the comic as the plot gradually tightens around a drug addict with criminal ambitions above his station and a bunch of East European heavies.

Wambaugh’s return to familiar territory is not without an agenda. Hollywood Station comes after the Rampart corruption case saw comprehensive oversight conditions applied to the LAPD, effectively hamstringing the way they can operate.

Wambaugh is clearly on the side of the cops as they battle against the odds (not to mention all the paperwork) to bring down the bad guys.

Unfortunately, this special pleading, a vein of sentimentality, plus the occasional feel you are reading an extended recruiting poster — “doing good police work is more fun than anything you’ll do in your entire life” — undercut what is otherwise a really gripping read.

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