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The Choirboys [Kindle Edition]

Joseph Wambaugh , James Ellroy
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Partners in the Los Angeles Police Department, they’re haunted by terrifying dark secrets of the nightwatch–shared predawn drink and sex sessions they call choir practice. Each wears his cynicism like a bulletproof jockstrap–each has his horror story, his bad dream, his night shriek. He is afraid of his friends–he is afraid of himself.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

14 years with LAPD. Author of NEW CENTURIONS, THE BLUE KNIGHT, THE ONION FIELD among others.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

Territorial Imperative

The man most deserving of credit for keeping the MacArthur Park killing out of the newspapers before it brought discredit to the Los Angeles Police Department was Commander Hector Moss. It was perhaps Commander Moss' finest hour.

The blond commander was so exultant this afternoon he didn't mind that Deputy Chief Adrian Lynch was keeping him waiting the allotted time. Chief Lynch kept all callers waiting precisely three minutes before coming to the phone, unless his secretary told him it was an assistant chief or the chief of police himself or one of the commissioners or a city councilman or anyone at City Hall who reported directly to the mayor.

Moss despised Lynch for having a do-nothing job and a specially ordered oversized desk. Moss knew for a fact that Deputy Chief Lynch had secret plans to increase his personal staff by two: one policewoman and one civilian, both of whom were busty young women. Commander Moss knew this because his adjutant, Lieutenant Dewey Treadwell, had sneaked into Lynch's office and searched his file basket when a janitor left the door open. Of course Lieutenant Treadwell could not receive a specifically worded commendation for his assignment but he did receive an ambiguously worded "attaboy" from Moss.

But there was another assignment which Treadwell had failed to carry out, and Commander Moss' stomach soured as he remembered it. It had to do with Moss' IQ score of 107. Throughout his twenty-one year career his IQ had meant nothing to his rise to the rank of commander. Indeed, he had not even known what his score was. He had been a state college honors student in police science and reasoned that no one with an ordinary IQ could manage this. But with the retirement of a senior deputy chief it had been called to Moss' attention by none other than Deputy Chief Lynch who didn't think the promotion board would consider a man for such a high police post who possessed an IQ of only 107. Lynch's own IQ was 140.

Commander Moss was livid. He took Lieutenant Treadwell to a Chinatown bar one Friday after work and forced the teetotaler to down five cocktails, promising his personal patronage for the rest of Treadwell's career if he could carry off a most delicate assignment. The ever ambitious, thirty year old lieutenant agreed to slip into Personnel Division that night and change Commander Moss' IQ score from 107 to 141.

Commander Moss downed his fourth Singapore sling and said, "Treadwell, I know I can depend on you."

But instantly the lieutenant's ambition gave way to fear. He stammered, "If anything ever . . . well, look, sir, the watch commander of Personnel is a former detective. He might start sniffing around. They have ways in the crime lab to tell if documents have been tampered with!"

"Don't talk crime lab to me, Treadwell," Moss replied. "Have you ever worked the Detective Bureau?"

"No, sir."

"You listen to me, Treadwell. You're an office pogue. You never been anything but an office pogue. You don't have the slightest idea what goes on in a working police division. But you keep your mouth shut and do what you're told and I'll see to it that you're a captain someday and you can have your own station to play with. You don't and I'll have you in uniform on the nightwatch in Watts. Understand me, Treadwell?"

"Oh, yes, sir!"

"Now drink your Pink Lady," Commander Moss commanded. (It was Hector Moss who had persuaded the chief of police that the traditional police rank of "inspector" was no longer viable in an era of violence when policemen are called upon to employ counterinsurgency tactics. Thanks to Moss all officers formerly of the inspector rank could now call themselves "commander." Moss had "Commander and Mrs. Hector Moss" painted on his home mailbox. Commander Moss had been a PFC in the army.)

Lieutenant Treadwell tried desperately every night for three weeks to sneak into Personnel Division. Each morning he reported a "Sorry, sir, negative" to Commander Moss. Lieutenant Dewey Treadwell lost ten pounds in those three weeks. He slept no more than four hours a night and then only fitfully. He was impotent. On the twenty-first night of his mission he was almost caught by a janitor. Lieutenant Treadwell was defeated and admitted it to Commander Moss on a black Wednesday morning.

The commander listened to his adjutant's excuses for a moment and said, "Did you get a good look at the janitor's face, Lieutenant?"

"Yes, sir. No . . . I don't know, sir. Why?"

"Because that boogie might live in Watts. And you'll need some friends there. because that's where i'm sending you on the next transfer, you incompetent fucking pansy!"

Commander Moss did not send Lieutenant Treadwell to Watts. He decided a spineless jellyfish was preferable to a smart aleck like Lieutenant Wirtz who worked for Deputy Chief Lynch. What he did was to go into Personnel Division in broad daylight, rip the commendation he wrote for Treadwell out of the file, draw a black X through it with a felt tipped pen, seal it in an envelope and leave it in Lieutenant Treadwell's incoming basket without comment.

Lieutenant Treadwell, after his hair started falling out in tufts, earned his way back into Commander Moss' good graces by authoring that portion of the Los Angeles Police Department manual which reads:

sideburns: Sideburns shall not extend below the bottom of the outer ear opening (the top of the earlobe) and shall end in a clean-shaven horizontal line. The flare (terminal portion of the sideburn) shall not exceed the width of the main portion of the sideburn by more than one-fourth of the unflared width.

moustaches: A short and neatly trimmed moustache of natural color may be worn. Moustaches shall not extend below the vermilion border of the upper lip or the corners of the mouth and may not extend to the side more than one-quarter inch beyond the corners of the mouth.

It took Lieutenant Treadwell thirteen weeks to compose the regulations. He was toasted and congratulated at a staff meeting. He beamed proudly. The regulations were perfect. No one could understand them.

As Commander Moss cooled his heels on the telephone waiting for Deputy Chief Adrian Lynch, the deputy chief was watching the second hand on his watch sweep past the normal three minute interval he reserved for most callers. Chief Lynch couldn't decide whether to give Moss a four minute wait or have his secretary say he would call back. Of course he couldn't be obviously rude. That bastard Moss had the ear of the chief of police and every other idiot who didn't know him well. Lynch hated those phony golden locks which Moss probably tinted. The asshole was at least forty-five years old and still looked like a Boy Scout. Not a wrinkle on that smirking kisser.

Lynch punched the phone button viciously and chirped, "Good morning, Deputy Chief Lynch speaking.

May I help you?"

"It's I, Chief. Hec Moss," said the commander, and Chief Lynch grimaced and thought, It's I. Oh shit!

"Yeah Hec."

"Chief, it's about the MacArthur Park orgy."

"Goddamnit, don't call it that!"

"Sorry sir. I meant the choir practice."

"Don't call it that either. That's all we need for the papers to pick it up."

"Yes sir," Moss said. And then more slyly, "I'm very cognizant of bad press, sir. After all, I squelched the thing and assuaged the victim's family."

Oh shit! thought Lynch. Assuaged. "Yes, Hec," said the chief wearily."Well sir, I was wondering, just to lock the thing up so to speak, I was wondering if we shouldn't have the chief order quick trial boards for every officer who was at the orgy. Fire them all."

"Don't . . . say . . . orgy. And don't . . . say . . . choir practice!"

"Sorry sir."

"That's not very good thinking, Hec." The chief tilted back in his chair, lifted his wing tips to the desk top, raised up his rust colored hairpiece and scratched his freckled rubbery scalp. "I don't think we should consider firing them."

"They deserve it, sir."

"They deserve more than that, Hec. The bastards deserve to be in jail as accessories to a killing. I'd personally like to see every one of them in Folsom Prison. But they might make a fuss. They might bring in some lawyers to the trial board. They might notify the press if we have a mass dismissal. In short, they might hurl a pail of defecation into the air conditioning."

Chief Lynch waited for a chuckle from Moss, got none and thought again about Moss' low IQ. "Anyway, Hec," he continued, "we have a real good case only against the one who did the shooting and I think we're stuck with that. We'll give the others a trial board and a six month suspension, but we'll take care of it quietly. Maybe we can scare some of them into resigning."

"Some goddamn shrink at General Hospital's saying that killer's nuts."

"What do you expect from General Hospital? What're they good for anyway but treating the lame and lazy on the welfare rolls? What do you plan to do about that dumbass detective who examined the officer the night of the shooting and ordered him taken to the psychiatric ward?"

"Ten days off?"

"Should get twenty."

"Afraid he might complain to the press."

"Guess you're right," Chief Lynch conceded grudgingly."Well, hope you're happy with our office, Chief!"

"You did a fine job, Hec," Deputy Chief Lynch said. "But I wish you'd talk to your secretary. I've had reports she didn't say 'good morning' twice last week when my adjutant called."

"Won't happen again, Chief."


Product Details

  • File Size: 1297 KB
  • Print Length: 418 pages
  • Publisher: Delta; Reprint edition (November 26, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001M5JVS4
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #139,032 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
69 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wambaugh's best book April 20, 2002
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
When The Choirboys was published almost thirty years ago, I was a young Marine thinking of becoming a police officer. I read Wambaugh's fiction back then because it provided a unique combination of humor and truth about police work. Or at least it seemed as if it might be the truth - Wambaugh had been a cop and I hadn't. And of all his fiction, Choirboys was by far the funniest... and at the same time, its story the most tragic and bittersweet.
Now I'm an old cop in a big metro area, looking towards retirement. Every couple years, I read Choirboys again. It amazes me and overwhelms me to find that it rings more true with every reading. The more I see of police work and of life, the more I realize how much humor and truth Wambaugh really was able to put into this book. It's all there: the amazing things that happen in life, some horrible, some hilarious. The camraderie, kidding, and practical jokes that cops constantly use to keep their perspective. The way Wambaugh's cops don't always like each other, but they always look out for each other. The supervisors and administrators - some good, far too many bad. It's the truest book I've ever read and gets better every time I read it. I've given away a lot of copies of this one.
I'm not sure, but I believe Choirboys was written at about the time that Wambaugh was leaving police work to devote all his time to writing. The book is definitely written from the perspective of someone who is willing to burn some bridges. It is unflinchingly realistic regarding the careerism and hypocrisy that Wambaugh saw in many police supervisors and administrators, and in the politics of the department itself. But Wambaugh never preaches, he satirizes, and he makes his reader laugh out loud again and again.
The bottom line is - this is the best cop book I know of. I hope you'll think so too, and I'm willing to bet that you do.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Indispensable Classic of American Literature December 1, 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
"The Choirboys" is not only Joseph Wambaugh's best novel to date; it belongs up on the shelf of modern American classics along with David Mamet, Raymond Chandler, and Joseph Heller. It's just that good and unforgettable. Wambaugh puts everything he knows about being a cop into this novel along with slashing, satirical prose, Vonnegut-like black humor, and a sorrowful humanism to produce a masterpiece.

I mentioned Heller. It's pretty clear that Wambaugh based much of the style and technique of his novel on Catch-22: A Novel (Simon & Schuster Classics) but it's an inspired borrowing. There was a flowering of comic literature about the absurdity and cruelty of the world during the 1960's and '70's and Wambaugh was part of it. You can see it in the fragmented way he tells his tale, how piece by piece he leads us on suspensefully to the heart of the story. It's seems there's been a killing in MacArthur Park, but we don't know the details. We gradually meet the choirboys, those cops on the front lines of the new war in the urban free-fire zone. Wambaugh provides a terrifying story for each one of them, along with generous helpings of "Animal House" type humor, until it becomes impossible to distinguish between laughter and screams.

I wonder if this book, with its scorching language about race and sex, could be published in the same form today. "The Choirboys" is, if anything, a triumph of political incorrectness, a plea that candor about our humanity is a primary virtue. You walk away from "The Choirboys" with that indispensable feeling that comes only from great literature; you feel like you have entered the heart and soul, the world, of other human beings.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Singing In The Choir... August 15, 2001
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Stark and realistic, this novel depicts the real life of a working cop and brings the reader so much more than a week in front of the tube watching "COPS." Wambaugh's cops are nasty and gentle, mean and kind, liars and cheats, honest men and women, crude and harsh and sensitive and quiet and in other words, real working folks. The narrative style works for me like being told a mysterious tale from a world I could never be part of, but for a brief moment am allowed to view. There is the usual bit of rollicking and raunchy humor, but there is also a heavy dose of pathos because these cops typify the real COPS. Read it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even a Brit loved it August 28, 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I'm not a cop, not even American, but could somehow sense that this book had to be an accurate depiction of policework in LA 25 years ago. The way Wambaugh slowly, but compellingly, builds up the reader's understanding of all the different characters is brilliant. The ending is extremely powerful.
The dangerous side-effect is that the next book you read will probably seem pale, construed and have an "untruthful" feel to it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Cop Book February 21, 2001
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
OK kids, take it from a cop, although this book is fiction it hits pretty close to home. The strange misadventures of the police, the horsing around and the problems inherent in "the Job", they're all here. Wambaugh does a great job telling a number of chapter-long stories of LA cops and their partners in this book. Some of the stories will cause you to laugh while others will cause you to commiserate with the officers. Wambaugh has written some great books, but "The Choirboys" stands ahead of the rest. If your idea of what us cops do is formed by network television, then read this book and see that NBC has nothing on Joseph Wambaugh.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very funny book, with a touch of deep sadness in ...
We all have met at least one of these characters in real life. Very funny book,with a touch of deep sadness in it's final analysis.
Published 23 days ago by Alan M. Barry
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
quick delivery reasonable price
Published 29 days ago by Edward Jachimowicz
3.0 out of 5 stars A Dated Lament for Cops
While Wambaugh may have intended his merry band of partying police officers to come off as loveable rogues, their loutish misogyny and petty corruptions do not wear well with a... Read more
Published 1 month ago by CJA
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read!
Great read - very entertaining. Every profession and industry has it's own "choir practice". This is real, raw with an emotional ending.
Published 2 months ago by John
5.0 out of 5 stars I always enjoy anything written by J
I always enjoy anything written by J. Wambaugh, and since I hadn't read anything of his for a while, I decided to go back and re-read his books. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mickey Walters
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read
Gives some insight of what law enforcement folks go through. Many changes since the book was written, but some still holds true.
Published 3 months ago by Ricardo A. Vargas
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic of Cop Literature
My brother, then a San Diego cop, got me an autographed hardbound copy of this for Christmas in 1975 when I was a senior in high school. All my buddies read it. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Kevin Doucette
I remember watching the movie years ago and thinking it was funny, almost slapstick comedy. When I found the book collecting dust on the shelf, I decided to read the delightful... Read more
Published 4 months ago by J.C.D.
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a sad telling. A book more about individual cops than ...
This is a sad telling. A book more about individual cops than a particular case. Wambaugh introduces you to a group of cops and their relationships with each other, and their... Read more
Published 4 months ago by MizEm, Queens, NY
4.0 out of 5 stars Book Order- Old Hardcover
I ordered the old novel for my nephew who is in his rookie year as a State Trooper. The price was good while the book had some yellowing due to age it is better than most I have... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Dragonsmoke 6
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More About the Author

Joseph Wambaugh, a former LAPD detective sergeant, is the bestselling author of eighteen prior works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Choirboys and The Onion Field. Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times' said, "Joseph Wambaugh is one of those Los Angeles authors whose popular success always has overshadowed his importance as a writer. Wambaugh is an important writer not simply because he's ambitious and technically accomplished, but also because he 'owns' a critical slice of L.A.'s literary real estate: the Los Angeles Police Department -- not just its inner workings, but also its relationship to the city's political establishment and to its intricately enmeshed social classes. There is no other American metropolis whose civic history is so inextricably intertwined with the history of its police department. That alone would make Wambaugh's work significant, but the importance of his best fiction and nonfiction is amplified by his unequaled ability to capture the nuances of the LAPD's isolated and essentially Hobbesian tribal culture."
Understandably, then, Wambaugh, who lives in California, is known as the "cop-author" with emphasis on the former, since, according to him, most of his fantasies involve the arrest and prosecution of half of California's motorists. Wambaugh still prefers the company of police officers and interviews hundreds of them for story material. However, he is aghast that these days most of the young cops drink iced tea or light beer, both of which he finds exceedingly vile, causing him to obsessively fume with Hamlet that, 'The time is out of joint.' He expects to die in a road rage encounter. For more information please visit or

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