BOOKWORM: Wambaugh’s ‘Hollywood Moon’ will send mystery lovers into literary orbit

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Hollywood Moon” by Joseph Wambaugh, c.2009, Little, Brown, $26.99, 344 pages.

They say it’s a myth, but you know better.

It’s just a normal astronomical occurrence, they claim. Something that happens on a regular basis and has been happening for millennia. A full moon merely indicates a relationship between earth’s orbit and the sun’s. No big deal.

But you know better.

Scientists can say all they want, but a full moon means plenty – and all of it weird.

And so does a “Hollywood Moon” for the cops in one LAPD division. In the new novel by Joseph Wambaugh, a Hollywood Moon means oddball, strange, unique, dangerous calls.

No doubt about it, Jakob Kessler was a creepy man. Creole and Jerzy knew that when Kessler turned his icy eyes on them, they were inches from trouble. But, as “runners,” they didn’t have much to say about the things Kessler told them to do. What he was paying them was easy money, even if it did involve illegal acts.

Bernie Graham had runners, too, and he had his eye on Malcolm Rojas. Adorable Malcolm with his curly black hair and dark eyes would be a great asset to Bernie’s business. He seemed to be such a go-getter.

Malcolm wanted to work with Bernie so much that he kept Graham’s phone number locked in his cell phone. As soon as he could start working for Graham, Malcolm could quit his dead-end job. Then maybe he could stop thinking about how much he hated women like his mother. Maybe he wouldn’t feel so angry all the time.

When Dewey Gleason married Eunice, she promised him early retirement and a fat bank account. But all Eunice does now is smoke cigarettes and order him around. Dewey doesn’t know what else he can do to make her happy; he’s already got runners all over L.A., and he’s bringing in big money but she’s hiding it. And Dewey is hiding something, too.

Long before The Oracle died of a heart attack (practically on The Job), he instituted a department tradition: the cops who had the strangest call during a Hollywood Moon got a large pizza with the works. Officers Sheila Montez and Aaron Sloane won last time. But this month, as the moon glows over Los Angeles, someone is going to lose big.

What can you say about a book that starts out with surfer cops and includes laughs, corpses, tweakers, edginess, robberies, murder, kidnappings, sirens and tears? How about “fantastic”?

Wambaugh’s books always remind me of the reasons why I like cop novels. Wambaugh, who was once an LAPD detective, writes about the stuff he knows. That kind of reality-based fiction gives his book a sense of the absurd (the sort with which police officers deal every day) mixed in with the action and drama that his books are known for.

Be aware that, as you might expect, this novel includes gritty language and grown-up scenarios. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying it, though. If you love mysteries or good cop stories, “Hollywood Moon” will send you into orbit.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.

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