Patricia Cornwell’s Hornet’s Nest is a police procedural that turns that mystery novel sub-class upside down and inside out.
Cornwell sets the story in “the hornet’s nest of America,” Charlotte, NC, where the two top cops are women. Chief Judy Hammer is cool, collected, 50-ish professional who job of running the department includes being its public face.
Chief Deputy Virginia West, 42, is less cool and collected but no less sexy or less committed to her job.
Hammer has gotten permission from the city to allow Andy Brazil, the new police reporter for the Charlotte Observer, to ride along on police calls. Hammer orders West to take Brazil with her and to make sure he gets to see action. There is plenty of action, including what appears to be a series of brutal murders of businessmen in town for short stays.
Cornwell has plotted her story so readers have all the clues they need to be prepared for every surprise she throws in. She keeps her focus on personalities and their reactions, which reminded me of cops I saw when I worked a newspaper police beat. Parts of the story are laugh-out-loud funny, others tragic.
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.