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Hollywood Crows

Review

Hollywood Crows

Lest
readers think that Joseph Wambaugh has gone ornithologist on them,
Hollywood Crows are not winged creatures flying through the fabled
entertainment community of Los Angeles. Crows is an acronym for
“community relations officers” of the Los Angeles
Police Department, ombudsmen and liaisons in the community. Given
its sordid history, no other law enforcement agency in America
needs the efforts of this group more than the LAPD.

Wambaugh has chronicled the lives of police officers for the past
four decades. His first book, THE NEW CENTURIONS, was both
critically acclaimed and a bestseller. His early novels were
published while he continued to serve as a Los Angeles police
detective. The combination of successful author and working cop led
to some unusual circumstances that one might expect in crazy
California. "I would have guys in handcuffs asking me for
autographs," he was said to have remarked.

The modern police officers portrayed skillfully in novels by
authors such as Michael Connelly and George Pelecanos, and on the
small screen in countless variations of “Law &
Order” and in HBO’s critically acclaimed “The
Wire,” can trace their beginnings back to Wambaugh.
He was one of the first writers to recognize that police officers
have personal lives and often face pressure similar to most
middle-class Americans. But these difficulties are often
exacerbated by the fact that they confront crime and danger on the
job. Wambaugh’s books humanize police officers and their work
with humor and grace; his popularity has changed crime fiction and
given it a legitimacy that it lacked previously.

HOLLYWOOD CROWS, Wambaugh’s latest work of fiction, follows
his traditional plot structure of introducing readers to both
hard-working police officers who truly care about their job and
unthinking bureaucratic officers who seem incapable of working
intelligently or innovatively at any level. It is clear that
Wambaugh longs for a different era in police life, when officers
had more independence to perform their jobs. At the same time,
however, he recognizes that many of the changes in police work are
the result of lapses in judgment and professional malfeasance by
police departments.

Of course Wambaugh’s novels would be incomplete without the
other side of the law enforcement equation: the law breaker. One of
the genuine endearing qualities of his wrongdoers is that they are
not evil, mean geniuses plotting to destroy mankind. Instead they
are generally inept crooks who often end up caught because of their
own stupidity rather than through expert police work. That is the
way it generally happens in the real world --- most bad guys catch
themselves. If they were smart, they would have jobs with major
corporations where they could steal far more than they can on the
street.

HOLLYWOOD CROWS introduces readers to surfer cops, appropriately
nicknamed Flotsam and Jetsam, and to female officers Cat Song and
Ronnie Sinclair. The obligatory hardened veteran officer, Bix
Ramstead, represents the contrast between modern police officers
and those who served in a different era, when police work was the
job of white males. Throughout the novel, audiences are reminded of
the difference between the modern police department and police work
exemplified by Jack Webb in “Dragnet.” As Wambaugh
details the daily experiences of the contemporary officer, he lets
readers decide if society has benefited from the modernization of
its law enforcement community.

HOLLYWOOD CROWS reinforces a point that police officers in both
fiction and real life know all too well --- domestic quarrels can
be the most dangerous aspect of police work. The ongoing divorce of
strip club operator Ali Aziz and his beautiful wife Margot will
entrap and ensnare several in devious criminal activity. Many years
ago a wise judge once told me that he preferred hearing criminal
trials to divorce matters because “you meet a better class of
people in criminal cases.” That observation is reflected in
the distasteful details of the domestic battle between Ali and
Margot. The couple has gone to war over custody of their son, and
both combatants will do just about anything to win that struggle.
Margot will use beauty, sexuality and her ability to manipulate
men, while Ali will turn to his many connections with the criminal
element of Los Angeles.

While domestic strife is the major storyline in HOLLYWOOD CROWS,
Wambaugh has numerous additional plot threads throughout the novel.
Some center on the personal lives of the officers --- including
that of Nathan “Hollywood Nate” Weiss --- and their
interaction with a community that has come to Los Angeles from
every corner of the world. Others view the ongoing struggle of many
members of an urban society to simply exist in a frantic and often
unsympathetic social atmosphere. How the new multicultural police
force interacts with those citizens in disputes that run from minor
quarrels to major crimes serves as a backdrop of the book.

Reading Joseph Wambaugh is a joy. His books are humorous, even down
to the unique and whimsical names he employs. But beneath the
surface is the unmistakable fact that the experienced police
officer still has important insights and beliefs about law
enforcement and how it can function more effectively in our
society. HOLLYWOOD CROWS is a wonderful novel written by a
thoughtful policeman who still cares about that trade as well as
the writing profession, which has made him one of America’s
finest police novelists.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 22, 2011

Hollywood Crows
by Joseph Wambaugh

  • Publication Date: March 25, 2008
  • Genres: Crime Fiction, Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316025283
  • ISBN-13: 9780316025287