There are a couple of recurring themes in Joseph Wambaugh's cop fiction, including his latest, "Hollywood Moon." The first is that police officers are human. They don't solve crimes in 42 minutes (plus commercials); they have no super powers.
The second is that criminals are mostly dumb. Funny dumb. Stupid dumb. Entertaining dumb. But dumb. When Wambaugh combines cops and robbers, the results are enjoyable in an easy-reading, "I'm going to finish this faster than a felon running from a rabid K-9" way. But they also are thoughtful in that he makes clear that cops take the job for more than the money. They are dedicated and are prepared to give -- and frequently do give -- their lives.
Wambaugh's "The New Centurions," published in 1971, revolutionized police procedurals. He did for beat cops what Evan Hunter/Ed McBain's 87th Precinct police procedurals did for detectives; he wrote fiction that read and felt like nonfiction.
"Hollywood Moon" is the third of Wambaugh's novels about the cops of Hollywood Station, and in making this a series (a la Hunter/McBain), the books become superior to most of his previous fiction. The cops are less anonymous. We care more for them. And we get immediately and intimately involved in their lives from page one.
The four at the center of this story are Hollywood Nate Weiss, so called because he has a Screen Actors Guild card, his beautiful partner Dana Vaughn, and the two surfer cops known as Flotsam and Jetsam. They all take what they do very seriously, but their experiences on the job have given them a keen sense of the absurd.
They get involved with a crew of low-tech identity thieves and Malcolm Rojas, a disturbed young man with mommy issues who takes his anger out on random women. The identity thieves are run by a failed actor, Dewey Gleason, and his domineering wife, Eunice.
Eunice is the brains of the operation and keeps Dewey on a very short leash. To get away from her, Dewey hatches a scheme with two of his operatives to kidnap Eunice and force her to reveal where she hides their money. But nothing works out the way it's planned, especially when Rojas gets involved.
There's a shocker at the end. But that only adds gravitas to a novel that already brims with life.
Curt Schleier is a book reviewer in New Jersey.