Author Joseph Wambaugh knows cops. He worked 14 years for the Los Angeles Police Department until, with two novels and a nonfiction book to his credit, he quit to write full time.
The Choirboys is a about five sets of partners working the LAPD night shift. They are an oddly-assorted bunch, including military veterans, college graduates, do-gooders and do-others-first types.
They have nothing in common except the shared misery of doing a thankless job directed by incompetent supervisors for a public that hates their guts — and choir practice.
Choir practice is what the boys in blue call their weekly booze and broads bacchanals in MacArthur Park.
Officially, choir practice doesn’t happen because nothing LAPD officials refuse to admit happens, happens.
The guys in the patrol cars are on their own with disastrous results.
Less a novel than a collection of episodes, without Wambaugh’s frequent references to the shooting that would happen later The Choirboys would hardly pass for a novel: 10 main characters are about eight too many.
Wambaugh gets the details right, though. The topics of conversation and the language remind me of working the police beat as a newspaper reporter—and of why I hated working the police beat.
Depending on your gender, Irving Wallace’s The Fan Club is either about the ultimate high or the worst degradation.
An interview fabricated by Sharon Field’s PR agent reveals Hollywood’s “Love Goddess” longs for an ordinary man to love her.
Adam Malone, a part-time grocery clerk and wannabe writer, enlists three other equally ordinary, and equally gullible men to kidnap Sharon believing if she meets them, she’ll willingly have sex with them.
The four agree if Sharon won’t willingly participate, they’ll release her.
Once they have Sharon in an isolated mountain cabin, Adam’s quixotism is trampled by his three accomplices’ sex drive.
The men tie her down and rape her.
One beats her.
Using her dramatic skills and retentive memory, Sharon fights back.
A less skillful writer than Wallace would have reduced the kidnappers to stereotypes. Wallace makes each of them distinct individuals whose behavior is as plausible as it is despicable.
He also makes clear that when sex is used to sell entertainment, the entertainment industry must accept some blame if people believe the stories they’re told.
Wallace blows his superb plotting with what may possibly be the most implausible ending on any 20th century novel.
The Fan Club by Irving Wallace
Simon and Schuster  511 p.
1974 bestseller #10. My grade: B.
Doubleday says I Heard the Owl Call My Name is Margaret Craven’s her first novel, but that description is a bit overblown. Owlis really a longish short story. All the narrative bones are in place without the flesh and guts to make it a novel.
A Catholic Bishop sends a young, newly-ordained priest to a remote Native American community in British Columbia where running water means a river. There are no roads, no electricity, no telephone, no doctor.
Young Mark Brian has to adjust to a new role in an unfamiliar culture among people whose language he doesn’t know in a rural village miles from anyone he knows.
Mark is quickly captivated by the setting: the sea, rivers, fish, animals, and landscape enthrall him. The children are next to win his heart.
Mark is blessed with ability to listen and empathize, not forcing his ways on his congregation. Unlike most outsiders, Mark realizes the value of the traditional native traditions.
He is as torn as many of his parishioners are at the realization that the community is doomed to extinction.
I wish another writer had attempted to turn this story into a novel. A novel of this sort requires the author get inside the characters. Craven doesn’t do that.
I Heard the Owl Call My Name
by Margaret Craven
Doubleday,  166 p.
1974 bestseller #8. My grade: B
Joseph Heller’s 9174 bestseller Something Happened is a long-winded tale told by a mid-level, mid-career company man, Bob Slocum.
Bob talks like a bright sixth grader, bubbling with joy at potty jokes and inserting “ha, ha” to show when he’s trying to be funny.
Bob had an unhappy childhood, which set the tone for an unhappy life.
Bob became a man in a gray flannel suit who wants desperately to have an even better suit, which he probably won’t get, and even if he did it probably wouldn’t fit right, but he shouldn’t worry about the suit because nothing ever goes right for him and he’s already 40 and he has an unhappy wife and an unhappy teenage daughter, and pre-teen son who is a mess of insecurities and a brain damaged son who will never mature beyond a five-year-old’s level.
Bob knows he’s a revolting individual, but he is convinced he’ll never change.
Heller takes readers through 560 pages of Bob’s narcissistic monologues, coming back again and again to the same stories and observations that were boring the first time.
Then on page 561, something happens.
By that time, readers will be a numb as Bob is.
Something Happened by Joseph Heller
Knopf, 1974, [1st ed.] 569 p.
1974 bestseller #5. My grade: C
Graham Greene called his earlier bestseller Travels with My Aunt an entertainment and The Honorary Consul a novel. The distinction is apt.
The main character in The Honorary Consul is physician Eduardo Plarr whose English father disappeared after having gotten involved with revolutionaries in Paraguay.
Plarr’s medical bag gives him entree into all classes of society in the unnamed Argentinian city in which Charles “call me Charley” Fortnum is honorary consul. Britain recalled the under-worked real consul. The locals don’t know the difference, and most of the time Charley is too drunk to care.
Charley has wed a woman from the local brothel who, to Charley’s delight, is pregnant. Unknown to Charley, Dr. Plarr is Clara’s lover and father of his child.
Charley is kidnapped by revolutionaries who mistake him for the American Ambassador. Rather than waste a hostage, the revolutionaries threaten to kill Charley if their demands are not met.
The kidnappers call Plarr to look after Charley.
Greene is a master of incisive detail. Whether sketching a character or describing a revolution, his pen is precise: Every word matters.
What’s more, every character matters. Greene cares about the countries and the people about whom he writes.