Thursday, January 21, 2016

Joseph Wambaugh - The Glitter Dome

And the exotica: jodhpurs, knickers, and gold, gold, gold. Twenty-four-karat dresses glittered like mother lode. Headdresses reflected most of the subcontinent of Asia and the entire continent of Africa, twenty-four karats from the top of the head to the tip of the toe. There were enchanting girls in gold brocade culottes and gold-encrusted jerseys. All in all, it made Al Mackey think of munchkins and monkeys and rainbows. Fabulous!

Bantam Books June 1982
So that's what a Hollywood party is all about! Gold and babes draped in the stuff. Dang. My kind of party in 1981 was swinging as long as a keg of Budweiser was in it. And no girls dripping with gold in sight.

I was in the mood for a Hollywood crime novel and remembered this one by Joseph Wambaugh. He wrote this novel decades before returning to Hollywood with his Hollywood Series published in the past few years. The Glitter Dome is vintage Wambaugh, with its large cast of bizarre characters, its loopy and meandering plot and cops just a badge removed from psychotic.

The main plot concerns the murder of a bigshot film producer, Nigel St. Claire, whose body was found in a bowling alley's parking lot off Hollywood Blvd. Said parking lot is a hangout for skaters and hustlers and punks and assorted weirdos that populated Hollywood in the day. Just why St. Claire ended up there and who put two bullets into his face is what homicide detectives Al Mackey and Marty Welborn have to figure out. Both detectives are old, both are tired, cynical, and both are on the edge of breakdowns thanks to too much booze, too many cases, and too many nightmares. They take solace, when they can, at The Glitter Dome, a bar where cops and groupies hang out between shifts. Mackey's had a tough year. He's facing eviction from his apartment, his health is falling apart, he can't get it up and he's having alarming thoughts about chewing on the barrel of his gun. His partner Marty Welborn seems to have his shit more together, at least on the surface. He's good-looking, dresses well, a few months short of his pension and in reasonably good health, except for the nightmares of past victims still crying out for help. They both get handed the St. Claire case after its first team of detectives have reached a dead end with it.

But that's just part of the novel. The majority of the novel is made up of cop stories featuring a multitude of sleazy and bizarre crimes. We have Buckmore Phipps and Gibson Hand, a black and white team of street cops described as monsters. There is also Ferret and Weasel, a pair of hardcore undercover narcotic officers, And old-timer Cal Greenberg who hums Glenn Miller tunes while doing time at the station. Capt (Whipdick) Woofer who wants to retire intact while keeping some semblance of order among the animals and criminals. You have a perv named Tuna Can Tommy, who likes to leave Polaroids of his privates on women's cars. Hookers like Jackin Jill, who manages to become a key to the murder of St. Claire. There is also a layer of prostitution and porn to wade through, right up to a possible snuff film in Tijuana. All manner of dirt and crimes go down, some of which connect, however remotely, to the murder of Nigel St. Claire.

I would think that readers picking up this book might get frustrated by the many diversions that Wambaugh takes from the murder mystery at hand. Yes, eventually we'll find out who killed St. Claire in the parking lot of a Hollywood bowling alley, but that's not the point of the novel so much as a window to climb through into this world of Tinseltown misfits. No one is innocent, and justice isn't guaranteed. If you take the novel on its own terms, it's all a really cool trip into a world some thirty-plus years removed from now. Is it an escape? I don't know. I'll let you be the judge.

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