I kick myself sometimes because I’m slow to read writers I come to love. People I knew about, figured I’d like, and still never got around to reading. Daniel Woodrell. James Crumley. Ken Bruen. A good friend kept after me to watch The Shield since its premiere season. I got around to it the year after the show went off the air. I rationalize my sloth with reminders of how much I did read, and how little time there is, relatively speaking. I make peace with it.
What pisses me off is when I find an author I love and let him slip through the cracks. Like Joe Wambaugh.
I read The New Centurions and The Blue Knight when they first came out in paperback in the 70s. I soon moved into a non-fiction phase in my reading and read little or no fiction for years. After I got into crime I came across Fire Lover, non-fiction about an arsonist, and loved it. I’ve dabbled in his Hollywood Station series. A couple of years ago I got serious and read The Onion Field, which may be the finest piece of non-fiction I’ve ever read. Last week I finally got to The Choirboys.
I’ve learned my lesson. I’ll never let my Wambaugh reading lapse again.
The Choirboys is Catch-22 for cops. Most of it is much the way my daughter described the movie Ted: hilarious and wildly inappropriate. No one has Wambaugh’s combination of chops and experience and he uses every bit of his talent. He knows how to drop a downer into a sequence of funny scenes, and how to hold a reveal so you don’t realize until later a cop almost died while you were laughing. He teases you throughout the book about “the shooting” but never says any more than that about it until he’s 90% finished. By then you’ve come to accept these cops as heroes, assholes, and fifteen other personality traits, many in the same person. There are no better developed characters in literature, regardless of genre, including literary. The ending is a hammer blow that approaches like a slow-motion train wreck, and is devastating.
That’s all I’m going to say. To give away a scene or say any more about the ending would ruin it for you. Suffice to say, I’m updating my To Be Read list to make sure he gets a regular spot until I’ve read every word he’s published. Then I’ll read as many as I can again.