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Review: 'Hollywood Hills' by Joseph Wambaugh a loopy laugh — with an edge

What fun it is to read Joseph Wambaugh! His Hollywood Station police procedurals — peppered with the requisite gunshots and groin kicks, sleaze and sunshine — are word-drunk wonders, and that includes his latest, Hollywood Hills. Wambaugh's plot is as loopy as his language is joyously loony. An ex-con named Raleigh Dibble has landed a comfortable job as a butler and cook to Leona Brueger, widow of a cold-cuts tycoon whose mansion is perched in the exclusive neighborhood of the novel's title. Raleigh, like most crime noir saps, yearns for what's out of his reach. He meets his satanic tempter in Nigel Wickland, Leona's art dealer. Sales have dropped off at Nigel's gallery, so Nigel, sensing Raleigh's restlessness, proposes the men substitute digitalized copies for some of Leona's expensive paintings.

As the plan progresses, Raleigh, wisely, gets cold feet: "His thoughts kept returning to the months he'd spent in federal prison [for writing bad checks], where he'd met several inmates who had served very hard time in state penitentiaries. One of them had told Raleigh that comparing Club Fed to state prison was like comparing hemorrhoids to colon cancer, and the inmate was a man who had suffered both."

Meanwhile, a gang of teenage burglars known as the Bling Ring is breaking into the mansions of young celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom. The tabloid accounts of the audacious exploits of these teen thugs fire up the imaginations of a young parking attendant named Jonas and his sort-of girlfriend, Megan, both OxyContin addicts.

As all plot lines converge at Leona's mansion, the cops who call Hollywood Station home are busy with distractions like chasing pickpockets outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre. As ever, Wambaugh is alert to the ugly realities of police work, but Hollywood Hills is much more screwball than sinister. This series serves up plot lines and sentences that perform loop-de-loops all over the page before making flawless landings.

Hollywood Hills

By Joseph Wambaugh

Little, Brown, 356 pages, $26.99

Review: 'Hollywood Hills' by Joseph Wambaugh a loopy laugh — with an edge 12/25/10 [Last modified: Saturday, December 25, 2010 3:30am]
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