Cop on crime writing: Joseph Wambaugh


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‘Doing good police work is the most fun you’ll ever have,’ says cop-turned-cop-novelist Joesph Wambaugh. But for those of us who lack an inclination to enter law enforcement, listening to Wambaugh’s charming and frequently profane anecdotes runs a close second. (He later amended, ‘I have had more fun, but not since they outrageously raised the price on phone sex.’)

A nonstop raconteur and something of a ham (‘Aristotle said that 3,000 years ago -- then he married Jackie Onassis’), Wambaugh couldn’t tell a boring story if he tried. And sitting down with the other reigning king of the American cop novel, Michael Connelly, Wambaugh was in fine form.


Serious and reserved, Connelly described his literary alter ego, detective Harry Bosch, as the offspring of Wambaugh and Raymond Chandler. ‘You never know,’ Wambaugh quipped. ‘At my age, I might try it.’

More interesting for die-hard Bosch fans (of which I am one), Connelly revealed that in his upcoming novel, ‘The Brass Verdict’ (due Oct. 14 from Little, Brown & Co.), his other protagonist, lawyer Mickey Haller, will cross paths with Bosch. Though they have only a passing connection in the course of the novel’s central investigation, Haller will be revealed as Bosch’s occasionally alluded-to stepbrother.

‘The cool thing about the craft of writing,’ said Connelly, himself known for his generosity in advising other writers, ‘is that you can be a mentor from far away. Joe has been my mentor for 30 years, 25 of those before I met him.’

To that end, Wambaugh repeatedly emphasized the importance of character over plot. ‘The best crime stories are not about how cops work on cases but about how cases work on cops,’ Wambaugh said. He still conducts hundreds of interviews as research for each book.

‘A cop’s life is anecdotes,’ he said. ‘I am not a thriller writer. I’ve never written about flamboyant criminal masterminds. I write about lowlifes. But sometimes a lowlife can commit a big crime.’ In fact, the previous night he had invited Connelly to join him in some research at a local bar. ‘I didn’t take as many notes as I should because I had three vodkas before you arrived,’ Wambaugh said to Connelly.

Wambaugh also revealed that he’s in negotiations with Sony to turn his ‘Hollywood Station’ book(s) into a series of movies. He had previously tried to set up a deal with TV producer and writer David E. Kelley, but that deal fell apart because of ‘creative differences -- and the fact that he wouldn’t let me have dinner with Mrs. Kelley,’ Wambaugh said, referring to Michelle Pfeiffer.


-- Elina Shatkin