Joseph Wambaugh wallows in Tinseltown's quirkiness
There are two stories in "Hollywood Hills," the fourth in Joseph Wambaugh's "Hollywood Station" series.
The first is about the colorful but mostly inept cops who police that area. The second is a zany adventure involving two sets of art thieves focused on the same house, owned by Leona Brueger, a wealthy widow now on vacation in Italy with a renowned film producer.
The art theft is hardly noticed by the police until things turn bloody and momentarily serious just before the novel's end. The two stories intertwine only superficially. Mr. Wambaugh sacrifices his plot for color and character.
Central among the zany police squad is handsome "Hollywood Nate," so dubbed because he had landed a few bit parts on TV, enough to get a Screen Actors Guild card. He is forever pursuing the chance to get a real role and achieve some form of stardom, but at 38, he is getting uncomfortably close to his sell-by date in a business that recognizes only youth and sex appeal. He hopes the producer will give him a role, while Leona hopes to get Nate in bed.
Mr. Wambaugh's precinct also includes a pair of surfer policemen known to the in crowd as Flotsam and Jetsam; 6-foot-tall Vivien Daley, currently paired with exotic-looking Georgie "Gypsy" Adams; and two more women: street-wise 50-year-old Della Ravelle and her novice trainee Britney Small, who is learning fast from Della how to deal with problems that face female officers in a mostly male world.
Snobbish, gay British art dealer Nigel Wickland has planned the heist and engages the reluctant aid of Raleigh Dibble, caretaker of Leona's home.
Enter desperate drug addicts Jonas Claymore and his girlfriend Megan Burke, a sympathetic 20-year-old, who also have set their sights on Leona's place. On the day of Wickland's planned burglary, Jonas steals the art and Wickland's truck.
The art dealer cannot report the car theft to the police without giving away his own part in the plot, but Jonas manages to get himself picked up on several lesser charges.
While Jonas is briefly in jail for drug possession, Megan goes rogue and tries to extort the gallery owner for a much larger amount than she and Jonas had originally settled on.
Before long, everyone is betraying everyone else, misconstruing the others' motives and acting on incorrect information.
All this time the cops don't have a clue. They're working for the most part on small-time misdemeanors.
The book's gimmicks have all been used before, and the depiction of Nigel is distinctly homophobic. But Mr. Wambaugh is a brilliant writer who never lets the reader down but does make us sorry when this whirlwind read comes to an end.
We can only hope that No. 5 in the collection comes along quickly.
First Published January 2, 2011 12:00 am