By Joseph Wambaugh
First Published: 1975
Review © 2009 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Modern Fiction, Police Drama
The Choirboys by Joseph Wambaugh is the best police drama I’ve read. This is not a normal detective novel or mystery where detectives are trying to solve a difficult case. This is a window into the lives of a group of 10 LA patrol officers where we see the situations they face and how police work has an overpowering effect on their lives. The novel unfolds as a series of cop stories that contain some of the most uproarious comedy scenes I’ve ever read (guaranteed to make you laugh out loud!) as well as some of the saddest and most disturbing scenes I’ve read. Luckily, the comedy outnumbered the sad scenes by about 10 to 1 as long as your appreciation of comedy includes the dark variety.
The Choirboys begins with references to a killing involving one or more police officers and then moves back in time to describe the 5 sets of patrol partners that make up the “Choirboys”. These are the cops that like to party hard on occasion and are either single or married but not tied down. After a rough week or a particularly disturbing night, they call a “choir practice” where they get together after duty at a local park to trade stories, commiserate, get as drunk as possible, and/or try to score with a couple of friendly cop groupies. Each chapter of the novel focuses on a different set of partners or on one individual cop until we get to know each character quite well.
The cop stories in this book are as authentic as you can get and Wambaugh has an amazing ear for dialogue. I’ve listened to real cops tell stories about their job and they sound just like these. Sure, some of them may be exaggerated a bit as time goes on but on the other hand, the things cops see are often beyond what any normal person would consider believable.I can’t recommend this novel enough with the following caveats. First, you really need to be a bit older or have been in the military or police force to appreciate all the humor and emotional pain in these stories. I would recommend you be at least 30 years old. Second, the characters in this book are the opposite of politically correct and there is racism, intense violence, vulgarity, and lewdness so don’t say I didn’t warn you. Lastly, the ending is very emotional and sad in more ways than one. It may stick with you for days. The Choirboys is a must read so put it at the top of your list if you’ve made it beyond your 20’s.