Might be one of the best novels I've ever read. Combines the existentialism of Camus's "The Stranger" with the despair and fear of Kafka's "The Trial.Might be one of the best novels I've ever read. Combines the existentialism of Camus's "The Stranger" with the despair and fear of Kafka's "The Trial." I agree with those who say it's too long but I couldn't put it down. A profound, disturbing work....more
A wonderful novel that would make a great movie. The mob, gambling, crime, late 60s-early 70s NYC low lifes, and a genuine mystery that isn't solved uA wonderful novel that would make a great movie. The mob, gambling, crime, late 60s-early 70s NYC low lifes, and a genuine mystery that isn't solved until the last chapter, all wrapped up in a funny screwball comedy. Westlake was a master....more
Really good crime thriller. Spare prose, dialogue-heavy. Easy to see how this has influenced Mamet and Leonard, or shows like NYPD Blue and The SopranReally good crime thriller. Spare prose, dialogue-heavy. Easy to see how this has influenced Mamet and Leonard, or shows like NYPD Blue and The Sopranos....more
Which brings me to what really made my blood boil: the review-fate of one particular book -- "Hollywood Station," the new novel by Joseph Wambaugh.
A quick word for those who haven't encountered Joseph Wambaugh and his writing. A onetime Marine and L.A. cop, Wambaugh is a wildly successful author of cop novels and cop nonfiction. Among his best-known books are "The Choirboys," "The Onion Field," "The Black Marble," and "The New Centurions."
Wambaugh is anything but a victim deserving our sympathy. He has sold millions of copies of his books, and he has made millions of dollars. All that said, he's also one amazing writer. I've read only three of his books so far, darn it. But my verdicts of these three books ranged from "Wow!" to "Wonderful!" to "Holy cow!" "The Choirboys" in particular struck me as a major novel. I read it muttering, "This is great! This is just fucking great!" My calmer, more reflective, more considered judgment of the book is, by the way, "Fucking great!" "The Choirboys" is big, profane, hilarious, and moving -- a teeming, emotional / physical, evocative heap of rousing storytelling. I confess that I read it with an annoying part of my mind chirping, "Good lord, I like this a whole lot better than I like Pynchon! Why don't the profs and the critics make more of Wambaugh?"
(I've had similar reactions reading other rowdy, accessible, moving novels too. A few that come quickly to mind: Dan Jenkins' football novel "Semi-Tough," Terry McMillan's funky and funny "Waiting to Exhale," and V.C. Andrews' Poe-for-teens classic "Flowers in the Attic.")
As if popular and wonderful aren't enough, Wambaugh has also been an influential writer. In writing-history terms, he took the Ed McBain-style police procedural and filled it to bursting with irreverence, heart and despair. He was an innovator too. He introduced big helpings of tragedy and comedy (as well as grit and strung-out high spirits) into the recipe. He's been a major influence on TV and movies -- on popular storytelling. When you watch such sprawling, mixed-mode entertainments as "Hill Street Blues" and "NYPD Blue," you're seeing shows influenced by and inspired by Joseph Wambaugh.
So it's fair to say that -- in popular-fiction and popular-narrative terms, anyway -- Joseph Wambaugh is a very big deal. In news terms, the appearance of a big cop novel from Wambaugh is a big deal too: "Hollywood Station" is Wambaugh's first ambitious cop dramedy in more than a decade. Has the old master still got what it takes? Can the new book possibly live up to his early work?
A juicy subject, no? Now here's the mind and judgment of the NYTBR Section at work. The week the new Joseph Wambaugh novel appears, they decide to give two of their glamor fiction-review slots to Ambitious First Novels about Historical Tragedies. And how do they deal with the new Joseph Wambaugh? They consign it to their Crime-roundup column.
I don't know what to say or do about this kind of judgment except to shake my head in disbelief. To her credit, Marilyn Stasio wrote a review of the book that is more-than-impressed -- Stasio knows, even if her bosses don't, what a big deal Wambaugh is. And, according to her, Wambaugh is in fab form -- his new novel really rocks. (I've ordered my copy already.) To the Book Review Section's discredit, though, Stasio's review is all of five short paragraphs long, and is merely the first review in a crime-fiction roundup. In other words, the Book Review Section is essentially saying, "This novel isn't of any import unless you're one of those -- sniff, patooie -- people who are into crime fiction, in which case you might have something here to enjoy but you aren't a serious person."
I think it's safe to say that Wambaugh's sin is that he doesn't write literary fiction. Shame on him, he creates compulsively readable, highly-charged, big-hearted, narrative cop fiction that's more than a bit rough around the edges. It isn't about ideas. It isn't gamesmanship for the critics and the intellectuals. It's simply exuberant, moving, humane, absorbing -- and, of course, completely accessible....more