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February 10, 2012 / John Sheridan

Review: Harbor Nocturne by Joseph Wambaugh

Harbor Nocturne (Amazon, Amazon UK, Book Depository UK) continues the adventures of the familiar cops from Joseph Wambaugh’s Hollywood Station series including my own personal favourites Flotsam and Jetsam that I feared we had lost following the accident at the conclusion of predecessor Hollywood Hills (Amazon, Amazon UK, Book Depository UK). There is just something about these two characters that I love even though I’m sometimes baffled by the surfer lingo much like some of their colleagues. Thankfully they’re still in uniform even if one of them is now sporting a prosthesis which is a trifle unusual for a police officer.

Wambaugh anchors the story in the present by referencing some larger issues to demonstrate the contemporary nature of the story including sexual abuse settlements by the Catholic Church, Mexican drug cartels plus a reference to the Obama presidency.

The usual episodic nature of the Hollywood Station series is present and correct as we follow the cops on their daily endeavours. One can’t help but be moved when one of the officers encounters a child abuse case which of course raises the thorny question of police brutality but when the victim has abused a child how much sympathy do they actually warrant? At least the cop in question can ride off into the sunset with his pension intact.

The main storyline focuses on the death of illegal immigrants from Asia in a storage container in San Pedro and the repercussions as they ripple through the lives of those involved both directly and indirectly including an undercover op for which Jetsam is selected solely based on his amputated foot. The reader is of course clued into this op going bad before the participants are and consequently can anticipate and savour the potential repercussions. The plot does rely slightly on a coincidence regarding one of the characters filing a police report just as Flotsam and Jetsam subsequently roll out in uniform on a shift change – one of the inherent dangers of using patrol officers in an undercover op I guess. The murder of a Mexican dancer who was a witness to preceding events is ultimately followed by a murder-suicide and one final murder that the cops don’t try to investigate as they’re content to record as a suicide and close the file as justice has been served.

Harbor Nocturne is much darker due to its subject matter of illegal immigration, child abuse & murder compared to its precursor Hollywood Hills which maybe was slightly undermined by the incompetent nature of the criminals attempting an art theft. Anyone who has previously sampled the Hollywood Station series will enjoy this latest entry but there is more than enough for newcomers as well.



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