The Black Marble
By Joseph Wambaugh
First Published: 1981
Review © 2009 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Modern Fiction, Comedy, Police Drama
The Black Marble is one of Joseph Wambaugh’s most humorous crime fiction novels. Many of his novels include large amounts of tragedy but that’s not the case this time although there are still a few brutal crimes described. This is a police drama where the central case is a dog napping. The main case and the mismatched pair of detectives assigned to it provide ample opportunities for some of the most outrageous comedy you could imagine.
The Black Marble is populated by a cast of diverse characters which all seem to have some major flaws. The main police characters are an immigrant Russian with a serious addiction to Vodka and a middle aged female officer who is used to taking a lot of abuse in the male dominated police force. Natalie Zimmerman has just been assigned to work with the old Russian cop Valnikov. Her first day with her new partner convinces her that Valnikov has lost it and is clearly certifiable. However, the police captain doesn’t have time to listen to her complaints. Meanwhile the following days only confirm Natalie’s worst fears about her partner. It becomes obvious that some dark tragedy is at the root of her partner’s drinking problem but it appears to have driven him completely beyond the edge of sanity.
Meanwhile, the main criminal in this novel is certainly no mastermind. He’s a very experienced show dog handler but a complete rooky at crime. He’s driven by desperation and finds that his only luck is bad luck. His only smart choice is to commit a crime in the area in which he has the most expertise, dog shows. In The Black Marble, you’ll get a chance to see what’s involved from the inside of a high profile dog show. The introduction to the dog show world slows down the novel initially but this education pays off with some unbelievable laughs later.
As with most Wambaugh novels, the depiction of the characters and police work is very realistic. The conversations make you feel like you’re right there on the police force with lots of humorous banter between cops and plenty of misunderstandings between the mismatched partners. In addition, there is even some growing romance. For a very entertaining police drama weighted heavily on the comedy side of the scale, pick up The Black Marble and enjoy.