Cops And Robbers And Cops

When’s the last time you read a Joseph Wambaugh novel? Yeah, me too. Couldn’t tell you. Until the other day when I read one. This one was from 2008. Entitled Hollywood Crows, it’s not what you think. Assuming you’re thinking, like I was, that it was going to be about all those Hollywood hangers-on types who flit about tinsel town like a flock of crows. Of course assumptions are often incorrect. And this one certainly was. It turns out Hollywood Crows was about cops (as is virtually everything Wambaugh writes) in the Hollywood Division Community Relations Office, or CRO, pronounced and referred to as “crows” by the cops.

Turns out cops who work in this particular division are more about “community relations” and less about “real cop work.” At least that’s what the cops who work in said division think…according to Wambaugh who ought to know. Joseph Wambaugh used to be a cop in Los Angeles, and as most readers of this column will know, wrote some of the best “cop” fiction and non-fiction of the last few decades. On the fiction side you’d have to mention The New Centurions, The Choirboys, and The Glitter Dome. On the non-ficiton side, no one could avoid mentioning The Onion Field which really cemented Wambaugh as the “go-to guy” for LA police prose.

Hollywood Crows starts out with what seems to be just another series of dramatic scenes strung together for no other purpose than to simply introduce another of the large cast of characters (cops) who make up almost all of Wambaugh’s fiction. They’re always similar even though their different. This group is made up of police partners who are actually surfer dudes, hardworking street cops who are only trying to do their jobs and, a suck-up supervisor who’s making everything more difficult and more dangerous. If it sounds like something you’ve seen and heard before it’s because you have. Except perhaps for the wave-riding, lingo-spouting partners whose main role is simply to provide comic relief.

So many movies have been made of Wambaugh’s novels, and so many films and TV shows have been patterned after his work, that it’s hard for anything he writes now not to give the reader the impression of “been there, done that.” But the good news is, once you plough past the various vignettes of suicide attempts, petty thievery,gang busting and more, there’s a page-turning story waiting for you. It involves betrayal, revenge, adultery, shame, resentment, murder, frame-ups, and karma. All the things that basically make reading worthwhile.

There’s still no writer around who does a better job of being honest about what cops go through, fight against, deal with, and eventually succumb to than Joseph Wambaugh. Hollywood Crows is far from his best example of west coast cop life and death, but it’s one that should whet your appetite for the best of Wambaugh I mentioned earlier. It was worth the weekend The Fiction Fortune Hunter spent with it. Chances are it will be worth your time too.



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