This post is the thirteenth in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.
Studying the Masters of Crime/Detective Fiction
Part 13 – Joseph Wambaugh
Joseph Wambaugh, Jr. was born in Pittsburgh in 1937. He is known for his fictional and non-fictional accounts of police work. Much of his work is set in Los Angeles as he was a member of the LAPD for 14 years. After serving in the Marines from 1954 to 1960 and earning a college degree. His father was also a police officer. Wambaugh made it to the rank of detective sergeant while he was on the police force.
Wambaugh’s first of 16 novels, The New Centurions, was published early in 1971 This successful book was published while he was still a working detective. It was so popular that criminals were asking him for autographs. He soon became a full-time writer following up with such works as The Blue Knight, The Choirboys and The Black Marble. He also wrote non-fiction crime-focused works such as The Onion Field and The Glitter Dome, both of which were adapted into screenplays.
Wambaugh’s police characters were far from perfect. His writing style was realistic and he often used humor and epic incidents to show how dangerous urban police work can be. He was also known to criticize the LAPD leadership through obvious characters and incidents in his books.
Wambaugh also liked to use his works to shine a light on things particular to Southern California including politics, the porn industry, dog shows in Old Pasadena and even the process behind the research necessary to win a Nobel Prize. He loved to skewer the rich and famous even after he became one of them.
Many of Joseph Wambaugh’s works were adapted for television and movies. Among the most famous was the NBC series, Police Story (1973-1978), which covered the different aspects of police work (patrol, detective, undercover, etc.) in the LAPD with story ideas and characters inspired by off-the-record conversations with police officers.
Wambaugh wrote the screenplays for the film versions of The Onion Field (1979) and The Black Marble (1980). In 1981, he won an Edgar Award for his Black Marble screenplay. There was also a film adaptation of The Choirboys film which received poor reviews and attendance. All three films featured actor James Woods.