Joseph Wambaugh, 71, is one of the masters at writing police procedurals, both with fiction and non-fiction works, and I'm so happy I was able to land an interview with him about his new book, which comes out today.
I've interviewed some of my favorite crime writers – Michael Connelly, Robert Crais and George Pelecanos – but Wambaugh, unlike them, actually worked as a cop.
Wambaugh has even said one reason he agreed to write Hollywood Station was because of the urging of James Ellroy, who is another amazing writer, to return to writing about his Los Angeles Police Department roots.
Wambaugh, the son of a police officer, worked for the Los Angeles Police Department fo 14 years before leaving law enforcement work to become a professional writer, winning deserved acclaim for crime classics like The Onion Fields and Choirboys.
Wambaugh's new novel, Hollywood Crow, is a sequel to Hollywood Station, which I reviewed here. As I said then there are exceptions to the adage of "Don't judge a book by its cover," and that is the case with Wambaugh's book cover or, more precisely, his back cover. Hollywood Station's backcover contained compliments from Connelly, Pelecanos, Crais and even Ray Bradbury.
As with his older books Wambaugh takes swipes – often well deserved – at how the work of law enforcement has been hampered by politicians and police administrators. For example, the officers are at times ill equipped to deal with certain situations because they of new procedures.
The book is hilarious at times, especially as he describes guys dressed as superheros fighting, often over drugs. I knew Hollywood had a seedy underbelly – I just didn't suspect that that person dressing as Wonder Woman, for example, was actually a man, leading a poor child to shout, "Mommy! Wonder Woman is bald like daddy!"
What was your goal with this book? Did you accomplish it?
My goal with this or any book is to tell a story that is well worth telling and to do it in a lively interesting way. I hope I did it, but the answer to that is in the hands of the readers.
Where do you get the vivid characters you write about? Are they real people? People cops tell you about?
I do more than 50 police interviews before starting any novel. The anecdotes and characters are born from those chats over dinner and drinks.
I noticed you thanked a lot of police officers at the start of the book. How did they help you? Do you let some of them read your book?
Every cop in the acknowledgment helped enormously by sharing with me their experiences, and, more importantly their feelings, and that's not easy for male cops to do. The women aren't afraid to do it. Every one of them gets an advance copy of the book.
What's it like to have some of the best crime writers around – Robert Crais, Michael Connelly – praising your books?
It's an honor and pleasure to be praised by peers and colleagues.
What is the biggest misconception about the LAPD? What's the biggest misconception about Hollywood?
I read the profile of you at Wikipedia and it contains this comment: "The success of the early books happened while Wambaugh was still working in the detective division. He reportedly remarked "I would have guys in handcuffs asking me for autographs."
Can you verify its true and, if so, elaborate on it?
Yes, it's true. I stayed with the LAPD through the first three best sellers, The New Centurions, The Blue Night and The Onion Field, all of which ended up on the big and small screen. I used to do talk shows like Johnny Carson frequently, so lots of cops and crooks would see me on TV.
What question are you most tired of answering?
I am tired of people asking me how my fellow cops responded to my books. The answer is that the chief of police and his staff denounced the early work but the working cops have always loved my stuff.
What question do you wish you would get asked more often?
I wish that I'd be asked specific questions about the plots and characters so that I'd know that the questioner had actually read the book.
What are you working on next?
I am working on a third novel about Hollywood Division making them a kind of trilogy.