Wambaugh, Joseph. Fugitive Nights.

NY: Morrow, 1992.

Wambaugh’s plots in recent years are almost always oddball — and not always even “mysteries,” in the sense that you know from the beginning whodunit, but you go along for the ride anyway, to see what happens. This time, actually, there is a certain amount of mystery, though I don’t think it’s particularly well handled.

Lynn Cutter (a guy) is a police detective in Palm Springs, where Sonny Bono is the mayor and most of the streets are named for actors. He’s already got one bad knee and now the other one gets wrecked in the line of duty, so he’s waiting not-so-patiently for his fifty-percent disability pension to be approved and is meanwhile drinking his days away at a bar called the Furnace Room. Breda Burrows is a recently retired LAPD cop only a couple years younger than Lynn, though in much better condition (she bikes a lot), who has come to Palm Springs to try to set up as a private investigator. Breda has a wealthy client who wants to know why her husband is apparently having dealings with a sperm bank and she needs Lynn’s local contacts to help her acquire information. And Lynn is very taken with her buff calves and the freckle below her lip. Meanwhile, Nelson Hareem (known as “Half Nelson” for his lack of height and “Dirty Hareem” for his overenthusiastic methods) is a patrol cop working at a small, last-chance department at the wrong end of the valley. He’s anxious to make a big score, to catch a really important Bad Guy, so the Palm Springs PD will take him on. Mostly, though, he just scares the hell out of his watch commanders. The fourth key character doesn’t have a name until late in the book, being known only as “the fugitive.” This mystery man got off a small plane with a sputtering engine, went into the airfield’s rest room, and immediately cold-cocked a sheriff’s deputy who merely wanted to use the facilities. Then he steals a truck and a car and disappears. Nelson, who shouldn’t even be involving himself since the airfield is way the hell out of his jurisdiction, immediately thinks “terrorist” and starts working the case by himself, and pretty soon it gets tangled up with Breda’s domestic case and Lynn’s bad knees. Wambaugh drops all sorts of red herrings along the way but never provides any real clues on which the reader can begin to build hypotheses as to what’s going on. But his narrative style is not at all up to his usual standards — in fact, it’s downright clumsy. And he seems to feel a need to empty the typecase of all its exclamation points!!!!! The result is that the plotline — when you finally get there — is pure Wambaugh, and the characters are classic Wambaugh, but the dialogue is like Wambaugh doing a pastiche of himself. There is such an overabundance of sarcastic, cynical similes and allusions, some pages are almost unreadable. Like: “Look at his eyes. They’re shiftier’n Iran.” Or: “We got lotsa power lines out by Highway Ten that could produce mutants, which might explain this joint.” Or: “She’s more self-indulgent than a spaghetti western.” And it just goes on and on and on and on and. . . .

Published in: on 10 December 2011 at 6:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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