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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Black Marble by Joseph Wambaugh

After a slow start, Wambaugh gets really fun with his usual cynicism mixed with humor style. Sgt. Valnikov, a world weary cop, has been paired with Natalie in the burglary squad and they wind up investigating the theft of a potential Westminster Show winner.  (If you haven’t seen Best in Show, you must.)

The interchanges between Natalie, who thinks Valnikov is just some dope addled cop, and Valnikov, who has his own worries, are priceless, not to mention the often quite funny, yet cynical stories embedded in the larger tale.

For example, there’s the thief who decides to take down a floating crap game and rip off the players. He charges in with a double-barreled shotgun and immediately scares the crap out of everyone by shooting a round into the ceiling. That’s so exciting, he decide to fire off another round in the ceiling. Shortly thereafter, just after the crowd realizes what he’s done, he does too, i.e. that he just fired two rounds from a double-barreled shotgun.  Just before they all beat the crap out of him.  Or the Good Humor man breaking speed limits to get to the site of a jumper off a building so he can make a fortune selling ice cream to sooth the throats of all the bystanders yelling, “Jump, you chickenshit.”  Or the time when eighteen cops in a barricade situation with a crazy guy behind the door realize they need to dowse the lights in the hallway. Unlike in the movies, when one shot would do, in real life, “adrenaline turns the arms to licorice” and the fusillade from all the cops completely missed the lights. Only a lampshade had a bullet hole.  Valnikov suggests an alternate route.  Sneaking along the wall, he unscrewed the light bulbs.  Instant darkness.

In spite of all the fun and love story, there’s an undercurrent of cynicism and horror, represented by Charlie Lightfoot and the rabbit nightmares.  Not a great Wambaugh, but certainly a good read.


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