Review

Hollywood Station

by Joseph Wambaugh



Farley Ramsdale, a nasty little crystal meth tweaker with a big
attitude, hooks up with an emaciated woman he christens Olive Oyl
because of her stick-like figure. He likes having Olive around ---
mostly because he can send her into dangerous situations in his
stead. If she comes back, he's safe; if she doesn't, he's still
safe. Plus, she cooks for him, works with him and sleeps with him.
Despite her years of drug use, Olive still has a pretty good heart,
even if she has few teeth and her hair doesn't look so good. Farley
and Olive actually work hard at crime. They make their score
however they can, but a favorite is mailbox fishing, hauling out
all sorts of useful letters, checks and occasionally cash. One
night, they hit a goldmine.

But the late-night streets teem with junkies, tweakers, peddlers,
burglars, robbers, smugglers and killers. None of them has any real
allegiance to anyone, so the rule is to beware of everyone. Even
what looks like a benign panhandler may have big eyes, looking for
information he can sell. And he won't care if it's the cops to whom
he sells.

The cops in Hollywood Station have seen it all, and they have
attitudes too --- maybe, in fact, bigger than those of the crooks.
All of them have the bold, hardened character of a cop on the
street. People who see the side of life that they see find ways to
cope: by telling seemingly tasteless jokes, subconsciously
profiling everyone, inventing unflattering categories for the bad
guys and even some pretty offensive nicknames for their own
colleagues. But don't dare doubt that they are a family. They need
each other desperately; their very lives depend on it.

Joseph Wambaugh's cops on the night shift are rich with odd
personalities and bizarre quirks. Flotsam and Jetsam, a couple of
cops regrettably partnered together, are devoted surfer dudes who
have a divorce or two under their belt, a few years on the job and
a gaping hole where their brains should have been. You just have to
hope they don't last long on the job. If they do, you can bet they
will be frequent subjects of departmental investigations and
indignant lawsuits.

For this deployment period, the fondly nicknamed Oracle --- a cop
with decades on the job to his credit --- partners a crusty cop
named Fausto Gamboa with Budgie Polk, a gutsy officer recently
returned from maternity leave. An unlikely pair: He's older than
her father; she's young, brash and female, of all things. Back in
Gamboa's day, females weren't gun-carrying officers who were
allowed out in the field. They worked safely behind a desk, were
good with paperwork and had nice voices for answering phones. And
what's with that name, Budgie? Gamboa thinks it must be time to
pull the pin, especially the way the rules have been relaxed
nowadays. Flotsam and Jetsam have gel-spiked dyed hair, if you can
believe it.

HOLLYWOOD STATION reads like a watch commander's log. Lots of
bodies doing all sorts of illegal stuff. Fists fly. Shots are
fired. Arrests are made. Stories are compared. And Wambaugh doesn't
leave anybody out. The Russian mafia makes an appearance, as does a
shell-shocked war veteran, some Asian bangers, a couple of shifty
Italian guys, and lots of people with ties to the wonderful world
of drugs. Of course, this is Hollywood Station, so there are the
aspiring actors among the rank and file, busily dropping names and
searching for their big break.

As if the characters aren't enough to make HOLLYWOOD STATION a hit,
there is also one of the most unique chase scenes ever written ---
not so much because of the high speed (since there isn't any) but
because of the participants. I'm pretty sure a chase like this one
has never happened --- anywhere, any time.

Wambaugh's first novel in a decade is comical and gritty, with
political commentary woven in. It's such a pleasure to have him
back.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 22, 2011

Hollywood Station
by Joseph Wambaugh

  • Publication Date: November 28, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316066141
  • ISBN-13: 9780316066143