The Delta Star by Joseph Wambaugh

The most recent novel I’ve completed is The Delta Star by Joseph Wambaugh. This book was truly one of a kind in terms of style. It’s a police book but it’s more than that. Most police books are mystery novels driven entirely by plot following one or two officers. This book was character-driven through and through. While there wasn’t a whole lot in regards to plot, the little vignettes of police calls and experiences and the arc of a detective’s case brought some plot for those that absolutely need it.

Police work is something that captivates citizens from all backgrounds. Whether you’re a regular Joe accountant or a police officer of thirty years, you’ve seen an episode of Cops or LivePD. The things police deal with and the fight of good versus evil draws everyone in, hence why Cops was one of the longest running reality TV shows, ever. With authors like Raymond Chandler, Michael Connelly, and James Patterson, the genre has established itself as one of the most consumed genres and with numerous TV shows covering the same stories and style, it’s easy to see how captivated people are by police work. Despite recent events including the cancelling of both Cops and LivePD, a decision which was absolute garbage, by the way, considering it went against the media narrative and actually showed cops doing great work, the popularity of these shows and novels are perfect examples of how gripping police work really is.

Joseph Wambaugh was a Detective Sergeant for the Los Angeles Police Department and left the department after serving 14 years when he dedicated himself to writing his novels full-time. Suffice it to say, his novels and his police knowledge come from firsthand experience and I imagine most of the incidents that take place in the novel were witnessed by him. I liked that this novel, while written in the form of multiple short stories with the same characters, went through the hilarious, disturbing, puzzling, and heartbreaking aspects of the job. In one incident, you see the hilarity a woman in a wheelchair cheering on the police as they fight her monstrous son to the gut-wrenching scene where an officer was killed in the line of duty and the subsequent sorrow and loss felt by those that worked with them. This book takes you on the roller coaster ride that is police work and does so not only by going on the jobs with the officers but following them home and seeing how the job permanently changes a person’s brain.

My dad was the one who told me about Joseph Wambaugh. My dad was a Chicago Police Officer for thirty years and did everything from working the beat as a new guy to supervising officers new and old. He read a few of Wambaugh’s books and loved the style, the way they depicted the job, and showed how flawed human beings are thrust into a world where only those built for it can survive and even then, unfortunately, many don’t. He happened to have a copy of The Delta Star and gave it to me to read and I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to read and absorb everything as fast as I could. The stories, the characters, the picturesque descriptions of Los Angeles, a city with a long history of police work, both good and bad. It drew me in. I loved it.

The story wasn’t driven by plot, like I said, but primarily focused and highlighted the personalities of the officers of the LAPD, showcasing their virtues but also greatly exploiting their vices. From the alcoholic past-his-prime detective to the new female cop adjusting to the world of a male dominated profession to the old timer counting down the days to his pension, Wambaugh does a great job of not only showing the different perspectives of the job but delves into the flaws of the heroes. Wambaugh’s style reminds the reader that police officers are humans, with flaws, weaknesses, vices, and strengths. Some cops are great at some things while others prosper in different areas of the job, but all experience the roller coaster of a career in police work and he shows how some cope and some don’t.

This book was a fantastic read. I love police books and while I’ve read my share of police procedurals, this is a character-driven novel focused on the job and how it affects officers of different personalities and makeups. It’s not all that procedural but it’s gripping. So gripping, I purchased Wambaugh’s first novel, The New Centurions, which I plan to read next and I’ll be sure to let you know how that one is. If you like police stories, this is definitely one to pick up.


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