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The Choirboys Paperback – August 28, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Delta; Reprint edition (August 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385341601
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385341608
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,754 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

A former LAPD detective and perennial bestselling author, Joseph Wambaugh is the cops’ poet laureate, and these are the stories he was born to tell.

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."

"Bye bye, Hec."Deputy Chief Lynch wouldn't stand for a violation of the Los Angeles Police Department order concerning phone answering. After all, he had written the order. Officers had to answer thus:

"Good morning [afternoon or evening], Wilshire Watch Commander's Office, Officer Fernwood speaking. May I help you?"

If any word was left out of this standard greeting, the officer could be subject to disciplinary action.It was said that once when a desk officer at Newton Street Station had uttered the entire phrase before giving the caller a chance to speak, the caller, a cardiac victim, fell unconscious before completing the address where the ambulance should be sent and died twenty minutes later.

Deputy Chief Lynch was a man to reckon with because he had thought of the most printable slogan in the history of the department. It was the slogan for a simple plan to spread out the staff officers geographically, giving them line control over everything in a given area. But if the plan were to be newsworthy, it needed a word or words to make it sound sophisticated, military and dramatic.

It came to Deputy Chief Lynch in a dream one night after he saw Command Decision on "The Late Show."

"Territorial Imperative!" he screamed in his sleep, terrifying his wife.

"But what's it mean, sir?" his adjutant asked the next day.

"That's the beauty of it, stupid. It means whatever you want it to mean," Chief Lynch answered testily.

"I see! Brilliant, sir!" cried the adjutant.

One often read in the Los Angeles newspapers that the chief of police was shuffling his officers around in the interest of "Territorial Imperative."

Chapter Two

The Body Count


Deputy Chief Adrian Lynch could sit for hours and stare at stacks of paper and suck on an unlit pipe and look overworked. This alone would not have made him a success however if he had not been the driving force behind Team Policing and the Basic Car Plan which everyone knew were the pet projects of the Big Chief.

"Team Policing" was nothing more than the deployment as often as possible of the same men in a given radio car district, making these men responsible not only for uniform patrol in that district but for helping the detectives with their follow-up investigation. The detectives (now called "investigators") resented the encroachment of younger patrol officers in the investigative work. The patrol officers in turn resented a phase of the Basic Car Plan which in reality was the plan itself. It was the Basic Car Plan Meeting. It was resented by everybody.

This meeting usually took place at a school or auditorium in the district patrolled by the given car. It was more or less a glorified coffee klatch to which doughnuts were added as an enticement. They were picked up free, compliments of a large doughnut chain. Police administrators could swear that crime had dropped because two dozen lonely old ladies had coffee and doughnuts with two charming, well groomed, young uniformed policemen who couldn't wait to get rid of the old ladies so they could get off duty and meet some young ladies.

When Deputy Chief Lynch was still a commander he had had the foresight to transfer to his office an enterprising young policeman who had been a second lieutenant in Vietnam and was an absolute master of the body count. Officer Weishart made sure that all Basic Car meetings in divisions commanded by Lynch would take place in school buildings adjacent to crowded playgrounds. Officer Weishart supplied not only coffee and doughnuts for the pensioners in the neighborhood but cookies and punch for the children. He enticed hundreds of kids from the streets to set foot inside the auditorium wherein they would be duly logged. Each time they came and went. If anyone had ever bothered to audit Officer Weishart's statistics he would have discovered that to accommodate the mobs reported, the grammar school auditorium would have had to be the size of the Los Angeles Coliseum.

But Team Policing and the Basic Car Plan had created lots and lots of new jobs for officers of staff rank. Therefore lieutenants made captain, captains made commander and commanders made deputy chief, and everyone had all the time they needed to think up new things for the working cops to do aside from catching crooks, which most of the new captains, commanders and deputy chiefs knew nothing about.

If Deputy Chief Lynch had an Achilles' heel which might someday preclude his elevation to chief of police it was his lubricious lusting after his secretary, Theda Gunther, the wife of Lieutenant Harry Gunther, who every time he turned around found himself transferred farther and farther from his Eagle Rock home, which allowed his wife more and more time with Deputy Chief Lynch who wished there was a police station for Lieutenant Gunther even farther from downtown than West Valley Station.

If the body count at the Basic Car Plan meetings was Chief Lynch's greatest accomplishment as a police officer his most thrilling by far was fornicating with Theda Gunther on top of the desk of that goddamn religious fanatic, Assistant Chief Buster Llewellyn.

They had gotten drunk in Chinatown the night Lynch suggested it, and there had almost been a slight scandal when they staggered into the police building at 2:00 a.m.It had been a mad coupling for both of them what with the possibility of being caught in such a hallowed spot. Theda Gunther ripped off Deputy Chief Lynch's hairpiece in the throes of orgasm, and he, instinctively grabbing for the three hundred dollar toupee, had a premature withdrawal, leaving evidence all over the irreplaceable hand tooled blotter with Llewellyn's religious slogans engraved on all four corners.

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 www.josephwambaugh.net or www.hollywoodmoon.com.

Customer Reviews

This is the second book I have read by Joseph Wambaugh.
Amy B
I shook my head as I sympathized with the characters, their inner demons and outer perils.
Robert Thompson
You'll read this book laughing, feeling anger, and at times misty eyed.
Robert Gonzalez

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 71 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 20, 2002
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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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By R. W. Rasband VINE VOICE on 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 By Gypsychick on 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 By Matthew Whittall on 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 By A Customer on February 21, 2001
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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