Sunday, March 23, 2008

HOLLYWOOD STATION by Joseph Wambaugh

Hollywood Station
Joseph Wambaugh
Little, Brown and Company
c/o Hachette Book Group USA
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017

LAPD's Hollywood Division is not as glamorous as it sounds. Here the prostitutes and transvestites troll for johns while "tweakers" fish envelopes out of mailboxes in search of anything they can use toward the purchase of their next hit of crystal meth and celebrity clones stroll along the Hollywood walk of fame seeking gullible tourists. Since Rodney King, law enforcement officials, from the beat cops to the detectives, must bide by rigid rules and continual scrutiny, from their internal affairs division to Washington DC. But they have the protective eye of their Sergeant on their side, a man they refer to as the Oracle, who has been on the Job for 46 years.

The story centers around a tweaker named Farley Ramsdale and his girlfriend, whom he calls Olive because she resembles Popeye's Olive Oyl. Farley is a small-time crook who thinks he is being smart by making Olive do all the dirty work: fishing envelopes out of mailboxes, trying to pass counterfeit bills in stores, and stealing magnetic cards from hotels which Farley sells to other criminals specializing in identity theft. When Cosmo, an Armenian immigrant and Ilya, his Russian girlfriend, steal diamonds from a jeweler, Farley quickly puts two and two together; Farley is the one who passed on to Cosmo a letter from the jewelry store inventorying the diamonds. When Farley demands a cut of the action, Cosmo decides he and Olive must be eliminated, but from that point on, everything begins to spin out of control.

Wambaugh is a master at characterization and witticisms. His humorous style and observations make this a fun read, with quirky, offbeat characters and plenty of action. What seems at first to be a loose, albeit amusing, telling of the goings on within the Los Angeles Police Department Hollywood Station and the criminals that surround it, comes together at the end to form one heck of a good story. The situations the officers find themselves in are at times laugh-out-loud funny, as are the interactions between the characters. Hollywood Station provides a poignant look into the inner workings and ever-present political wrangling behind the scenes of the LAPD. Highly entertaining; recommended.

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