BOOK REVIEW: The Action in ‘Harbor Nocturne’: Joe Wambaugh’s Latest Hollywood Station Novel, Extends South to San Pedro, LA’s Harbor Town

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: The Action in 'Harbor Nocturne': Joe Wambaugh's Latest Hollywood Station Novel,  Extends South to San Pedro, LA's Harbor Town

Readers of Joseph Wambaugh’s latest Hollywood Station police procedural novel, “Harbor Nocturne” (Mysterious Press, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, 336 pages, $27.00) will be entertained by the usual suspects of the Hollywood station on Wilcox Avenue, and — as a bonus — they’ll get a good basic look at the culture and demographics of San Pedro, the harbor town 25 miles south of Hollywood that’s more like a separate city of 75,000 than a part of Los Angeles. It’s connected by a shoestring strip of land along the Harbor Freeway to L.A. proper — or improper as it’s often pictured in Joe Wambaugh’s novels.

In addition to being the filming locale of many Hollywood films like “To Live and Die in L.A.”, mostly working class San Pedro is where longshoreman Dinko Babich, 32 going on 17, lives with his widowed mother Birgita in a luxurious paid-for home that is grand enough for upscale communities on the nearby Palos Verdes Peninsula. Also part of the household is 19-year-old Lita Medina Flores, an illegal strip club dancer from Mexico, on the run from Korean mobster William Kim and his partner in crime Mr. Markov. Dinko’s high school pal, an Italian-American named Hector Cozzo, works for the two mobsters and they want to find out where Lita is. Markov says he’s Russian, but Cozzo suspects he’s a Serb, bitter foes of the Croatians that Hector has grown up with. I was a little surprised at Wambaugh’s use of a typical Hispanic first name — Hector — for Dinko’s Italian-American friend.

San Pedro — it’s pronounced “San Peedro”, not “San Paydro” — is at the Los Angeles Harbor, which, with adjoining Long Beach harbor, is one of the world’s busiest. The town — residents think of it as separate from L.A. — has a large Croatian population, one of the largest Italian communities on the West Coast, Norwegians, Portuguese, Mexican Americans, blacks and generic Americans. It has a small commercial fishing industry, but the big bucks are earned by longshoreman working at the harbor. There’s a connection to Hollywood: in addition to the aforementioned William Friedkin-helmed “To Live and Die in L.A.”, San Pedro was the filming location of scenes of “The Usual Suspects” starring Kevin Spacey and Gabriel Byrne. Screenwriter Robert Towne, of “Chinatown” fame, grew up in San Pedro, where his father owned a clothing store.

Joseph Wambaugh

Joseph Wambaugh

William Kim — not his real name — is searching for Lita because she’s the witness to a murder he committed. She’s also aware of Kim’s human-trafficking business, including the deaths of thirteen Asians — all young women, except for an older man — housed in a shipping container that was off-loaded at the L.A. Harbor.

Fans of the four previous Hollywood Station novels will find surfer cops Flotsam and Jetsam on the midwatch, along with aspiring actor “Hollywood Nate” Weiss, his new partner, Britney Small, along with new members of the midwatch. And, yes, the “Unicorn,” Chester Toles, is there — for the last time. 

And everybody touches the framed photo of the Oracle as they go out the door.

 

As is typical of Wambaugh’s novels, authentic details of day-to-day police work are combined with the outrageous happenings that occur in Hollywood, especially during the phase of the full — or “Hollywood” — moon. Speaking of outrageous, Wambaugh introduces us to a condition called apotemnophilia, and surfer cop Jetsam plays a role in this really weird medical condition. For more about the desire to amputate healthy limbs, click: http://www.rense.com/general11/arms.htm

As readers of Wambaugh’s previous Hollywood Station novels know Los Angeles is probably the most ethnically diverse city on earth, and many of its residents can’t stand each other. The flatland section of Hollywood — with Armenians clashing with Hispanics, MS-13 gangs going up against take-no-prisoner types from the former Soviet Union, Asians engaged in smuggling women for the sex trade or sweatshop fodder — has become a free-fire zone. The racial and ethnic banter at the roll calls at Hollywood Station is friendly, but that’s not the case in the world outside. The city reminds me of Tom Lehrer’s classic song “National Brotherhood Week.” For a YouTube of it, performed in 1967 by the inimitable Lehrer, clickhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgASBVMyVFI

A personal note: I lived in Los Angeles from 1976 to 1992 and worked as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times for all but two of those years. Living in the South Bay for a year or so, not far from San Pedro, we were familiar with the town and its tourist attractions, including Point Fermin Park, which plays a role in “Harbor Nocturne.”

“Harbor Nocturne” is vintage Wambaugh, still the gold standard for police procedurals. For my November 2010 review of his previous Hollywood Station novel, “Hollywood Hills”, click:archives.huntingtonnews.net/…/101122-kinchen-columnsbookreview.

About the author

Wambaugh born in East Pittsburgh, PA, in 1937, served as an LAPD detective from 1960 to 1974, when he quit to become a full-time writer of acclaimed novels and non-fiction books. He was in the Marine Corps before he joined the LAPD and has an associate of arts degree from Chaffey College in San Bernardino County and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from California State University, Los Angeles. The Hollywood Station series, which debuted in 2006 with “Hollywood Station”, were the first fiction he had written about the LAPD since his novel “The Delta Star” in 1983. Wambaugh’s a multiple New York Times best-selling author, two-time Edgar winner, and Mystery Writers of America Grand Master. Known as “the father of the modern police novel,” he has written 14 novels and 5 works of nonfiction including “The Onion Field”, “The New Centurions”, and “The Choirboys”, which were all made into feature films. He lives in Los Angeles.
His website: http://www.josephwambaugh.net

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One thought on “BOOK REVIEW: The Action in ‘Harbor Nocturne’: Joe Wambaugh’s Latest Hollywood Station Novel, Extends South to San Pedro, LA’s Harbor Town

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