Publication Date: April 3, 2012
Harbor Nocturne by Joseph Wambaugh, is the fifth book in Wambaugh’s Hollywood Station series. Jetsam, who lost his foot in the last book, is asked to take part in a Vice Squad sting to help catch Hector “The Collector” Cosso who is known for providing clients unusual requests and facilitating the sex slave trade in clubs in Hollywood for his boss, the very dangerous, Mr. Kim. When Hector runs into his high school friend, Dinko Babich, in a nightclub and is called away on business, he asks Dinko to transport the dancer whose “contract he bought” to a Hollywood nightclub. Dinko is struck by the youth, innocence, bad dancing and good looks of the 19-year-old Lita and tells her that she can call him for help anytime. When Lita is the sole witness to a possible crime, she goes on the run with Dinko’s help.
I did promise you, dear readers, that I would warn you of authors I cannot help, but fangirl it. I do believe that from the previous entry, you are forewarned.
Unusually to the series, a lot of the story in Harbor Nocturne takes place outside of the Hollywood beat and in Dinko and Hector’s hometown of San Pedro. We get the idea, as with Hollywood, that this is an area growing in ethnic diversity and segregation. Dinko tells a visiting cousin that years before most of the workers on the dock were Croat but there’s now a growing Mexican population, and when we visit his workplace, we see that the ethnicities keep to themselves. So why would Dinko go out of his way to help a young Mexican girl? Sex? Not when he’s taking her home to Mama. What develops is a changed Dinko in the way he looks at everyone, especially himself.
Despite the side trips to San Pedro, we get the best of the Hollywood Moon: A Novel (Hollywood Station) characters. The surfer cops, Flotsam and Jetsam are on an undercover sting to trap an amputee fetishist and his facilitator. The opening line in the book, “So now I’m like a hottie hunk on account of my fake foot, is that what you’re telling me?” lets us know in large letters that the surfer cops may have lost “their” foot (They are a team. Flotsam refers to Jetsam’s prosthesis continually in the novel as “our foot”) but they are still ready, willing and able to do what needs to be done. What I enjoyed especially about this novel is that we see this dynamic duo as they always are, relying on each other and honoring the Oracle’s mantra by doing good police work.
I was surprised to see Brittany Smalls in this one. As we know, Wambaugh usually doesn’t bring back characters that have played a primary role but he made an exception in the case of this rookie cop who made her first kill in the previous book. What was even better was teaming her up with Hollywood Nate (the only cop in Hollywood with a SAG card) who also made a kill within the series. Wambaugh doesn’t leave the emotional impact of actions behind for the characters. He deals with the tragedy that flows through the daily life of the police officer in a very realistic way and reminds us of the high suicide rate for officers and the challenges they face. One abiding challenge throughout the course of the five books is the banning of the large mag light in favor of a small flashlight which couldn’t harm anyone but also doesn’t help the officer. Another highlighted challenge is the need to make up offenders so as not to be accused of racial profiling. As Wambaugh points out, when you live in a district where a certain ethnicity is in the minority, there’s going to be a less likely balance of real offenders. From a court of public opinion perspective, these cops are forced to make do while doing real police work.
As the Oracle said, “Doing good police work can be the most fun you ever had” and Wambaugh’s cops do good police work.
I owe a lot to the Terp who recommended this series to me. Wambaugh is a new favorite author … and not only a favorite of this 40-something reader, but also her 60-something Dad. Wambaugh is for everyone and if you haven’t given him a try, you’re missing out. Check out Harbor Nocturne today. To read a review of Hollywood Station by Joseph Wambaugh click here.
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