Thursday, February 3, 2011

Currently reading: HOLLYWOOD HILLS by Joseph Wambaugh

Although I've slowed from my fairly frantic book-a-day start to 2011, I'm still finding that I'm churning through the titles this year - and with plenty of great reading to be had both from my creaking bookshelves at home and the new books that find themselves in my hands on a regular occurence, that's a great thing. Though I do need to take a breath and catch up on some long overdue reviewing soon, both here on Crime Watch and for other fantastic outlets.

Now I'm a few chapters into HOLLYWOOD HILLS, the latest novel from iconic author Joseph Wambaugh. It's my first taste of Wambaugh, who has been on my 'must-read' list for quite a while - one of those greats who emerged in the 1960s-1970s-1980s and influenced the evolving genre after the likes of the cosy Golden Age Queens of Crime and the Hammett-Chandler hardboileds. An author that as any self-respecting crime fiction reviewer you 'should' read - along with the likes of Ed McBain, Tony Hillerman, Sarah Paretsky, Robert B. Parker, etc.

Wambaugh is a former Marine and active policeman who is credited as 'transforming the police procedural sub-genre' of crime writing. According to, Wambaugh's "first four books and his work on the Police Story television series in the 1970s set standards of realism, dialogue, and character development for subsequent writers or turned them in new directions. In a very real sense he is the father of modern television police drama."

Looking at many things that have been said about Wambaugh over the years, it seems that it has been his 'authenticity' that really resonated, both in his novels and television work, and that this is something that has influenced a whole generation of novelists, TV and movie writers (even if some may not realise that their influences trace back to Wambaugh).

I have had a couple of Wambaugh books in my TBR pile for a while, but just hadn't got to them yet. When a copy of HOLLYWOOD HILLS arrived just after I finished Brian McGilloway's excellent debut BORDERLANDS earlier this week, I decided that now was the perfect time to address my Wambaugh-oversight, with a newer novel from the old master (I will still go back and read his classic ones from decades past). Here's a publisher's description of HOLLYWOOD HILLS, the fourth novel in Wambaugh's more recent 'Hollywood' series:

"For the streetwise cops of Hollywood Station, dealing with the panhandlers, prostitutes and costumed crackheads of the boulevard is all in a day's work. If they're lucky, surf-mad partners Flotsam and Jetsam can spend the morning calming the crazies and the afternoon policing the babes on the beach. But beyond the lights and the crowds on the Walk of Fame, the real Los Angeles simmers dangerously. And when things heat up, even veterans like Viv Daley will see things that they'll wish they could forget.In the hills above town, it's a different world, where sports-car-studded driveways lead to sprawling villas stuffed with clothes and jewels. Up here, pickings are easy for the Bling Ring, a group of photogenic young addicts who knock off celebrity cribs to fund their next fix.

Even experienced cop and wannabe filmstar Nate 'Hollywood' Weiss has struck gold in the hills. Leona Bruger, wife of an Industry Mover and Shaker, has taken a fancy to him. Although he knows the Hollywood maxim - you don't pet the cougars, especially if they belong to the boss - Nate reckons that a leg-over might be just the leg-up he needs. What Weiss doesn't realise is that his new flame's crooked art-dealer is about to pull a forgery scam right under his nose. And when a pair of desperate junkies hit on a foolproof plan to pay their drug debts with a stolen painting, things get very complicated indeed ..."

I'm enjoying it thusfar.

Have you read HOLLYWOOD HILLS, or any of Joseph Wambaugh's classic crime fiction? Do you enjoy 'police procedural' novels? Do you try to read some 'classic' or 'legendary' crime writers along with the plethora of newer authors clogging the shelves? Comments appreciated.


  1. Craig - I know what you mean about those iconic crime fiction writers we "should" read and simply don't always get to. I've a list of those, too. I'm glad you're enjoying Wambaugh; you're quite right that he's been a powerful influence on crime fiction for a very long time. I have to confess that, 'though I like police procedurals, there are authors I like better than I like Wambaugh. That said, he is talented.

  2. Impressive. My book club manages a book every six weeks - very sad.