A review of Harbor Nocturne, by Joseph Wambaugh
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
When you read Joseph Wambaugh on the endlessly diverse “coppers” of the LAPD or the equally colorful denizens of their turf, you know you’ve met the truth. Listen as he describes three of Hollywood’s zoned-out derelicts:
“Their shirts and trousers were so stained and filthy they’d lost their color and seemed to sprout from them like fungus. Two had splotchy skin with open sores, and there were not twenty teeth among them. As younger transients, they’d covered more territory than Lewis and Clark, but as they got older they’d begun to vaporize into spectres that nobody really saw until they spoke. The unholy ghosts of Hollywood Boulevard.”
No, the world of Joseph Wambaugh and his creations who people the Hollywood police station isn’t pretty. It’s wild, gritty, funny, outrageous, and above all endlessly surprising. Wambaugh has walked these streets. He knows whereof he writes.
The harbor of the title is the shore of San Pedro, a portion of the Port of Los Angeles. Two of the town’s younger residents, Dino Babich, a longshoreman, and his childhood buddy Hector Cozzo, reflect the variously Croatian and Italian history of the place, and their renewed relationship becomes a central factor in the plot.
The story Wambaugh tells revolves around human trafficking and prostitution — and the unsavory people who profit from it. The plot works well and offers up tension and surprises to the end. However, Harbor Nocturne is much less a novel of suspense than it is a character study of the Los Angeles Police Department, as embodied in the coppers of Hollywood Station. If there is an overarching theme to this novel, it’s the extraordinary diversity of Los Angeles today, where 200 languages are spoken. The book features characters of Mexican, Serbian, Italian, Croatian, Korean, Russian, Japanese, African, and Jewish as well as plain old white-bread European descent.
Harbor Nocturne is the fifth and most recent novel in Wambaugh’s Hollywood Station cycle, which began in 2006. Like its predecessors, Harbor Nocturne takes us inside the station and inside the heads of the cops who staff its evening and early-morning “midwatch.” Familiar characters from the earlier novels feature prominently here: the sun-bleached surfer cops “Flotsam and Jetsam”; aspiring actor “Hollywood Nate” Weiss; and young Britney Small, who earned the respect of the “OGs” — the Old Guys of the station — by shooting a violent offender to death. and wishing she’d gained it some other way.
Wambaugh, now 75, is the author of 20 previous books, 14 of them novels. From his very first novel, The New Centurions, in 1971, Wambaugh has been winning acclaim and selling books about the police in very large quantities. The man knows how to write!