THE POLICE NOVEL by Joseph Wambaugh

Some of today’s important writers of the police procedural have referred to me as the “inventor” or “father” of the modern police novel. I don’t know if the honor is accurate, and I’m a bit unnerved by the geezer-ish implication, but I can’t deny longevity.

When I was a young police detective with the LAPD I was struck by a novel about a Cold War secret agent: John le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, a tale about the moral ambiguity and inevitable cynicism inherent in espionage work that threatens the body, mind and spirit of the practitioner. I remember thinking: This could be a cop story about an undercover operative who finds himself psychologically floundering, cast adrift from everything he’s always known, including himself.

This idea may have influenced my writing approach. I wanted to create (or recreate from my experiences) a psychological police story. This was before people thought in terms like “post traumatic stress syndrome” as it relates to law enforcement. Yet in police work, cops routinely encounter, not just the worst of people, but ordinary people at their worst, thus becoming prime candidates for a premature and perilous cynicism that gnaws at the human spirit. I suppose one might say that, unintentionally, I “flipped” the traditional approach to the police procedural. I was much less interested in how the cop acts on the job as how the job acts on the cop.

Soon, I had become more of a reporter than a novelist, interviewing countless cops, recreating their experiences. Mordant humor, gallows humor, cop humor, emerged from their anecdotes--the antivenin against poisonous cynicism. For my latest, Hollywood Station, I needed conversations with 54 male and female officers in order to tell their story. Bless them all.

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