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The Onion Field Paperback – August 28, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A complex story of tragic proportions... more ambitious than In Cold Blood and equally compelling!"—The New York Times

From the Publisher

This is the frighteningly true story of two young cops and two young robbers whose separate destinies fatally cross one march night in a bizarre execution in a deserted Los Angeles field.

"A complex story of tragic proportions... more ambitious than In Cold Blood and equally compelling!" -- The New York Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Delta; Reprint edition (August 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385341598
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385341592
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #379,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 42 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 16, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I lived in Los Angeles in 1963 and I've seen the movie several times, but not until I picked up a used copy of the book out of the Good Will this last week did I read the written account. As usual, the book is ten times better than the movie. It's gripping and very hard to put down. The sadness of what happens to the surviving police detective is so frustrating and seems, today, so unnecessary. Of course, we forget that seeking help from therapists and even talking about your innermost fears(called "burdening others" with your problems), etc. were not the vogue in 1963. If they had been, this story might have ended differently. I was particularly interested in the author's references to local landmarks which made the story come alive for me. What makes it eerier is that the area of the onion field where the murder took place is not all that far from the city but even so, it's strictly away from city life, kind of up in the hills, pitch dark at night and isolated with nothing but a big lonely highway running through surrounding fields growing a variety of crops. Oddly enough, regarding the two sleazoid criminals, at times they seemed more intelligent than some of the defense attorneys. Fantastic story! I predict it will stay with you for days after reading it.
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88 of 99 people found the following review helpful By Christopher B. Jonnes on February 2, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The Onion Field is a top shelf book. It's the in-depth analysis of the true story of a 1963 event in Los Angeles. Two cops pull over two crooks in an otherwise routine traffic stop. But the desperate crooks get the drop on the cops, get their guns, kidnap them, drive them out to an onion field in the countryside, and murder one of them. One of the cops escapes death, but is haunted by guilt over the death of his partner and his inability to help. The murderers are captured, tried, convicted, and then retried over and over again on appeal.
The surviving cop is further savaged when the LAPD uses the case in training as an example of all the wrong things a cop can do when stopping and approaching cars.
Haunted by horrific memories, saddened by the loss of his partner, wracked by guilt, ostracized by his own, and repeatedly tormented by defense attorneys in one retrial after another, the cop suffers emotional meltdown. Wambaugh, takes us meticulously through the crime, second by second, and then tells the surviving cop's powerful and moving story: the destruction of a forgotten victim. This is as good as it gets. --Christopher Bonn Jonnes, author of Wake Up Dead.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 6, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is an interesting book. See the movie, too. People mention Capote's IN COLD BLOOD in previous reviews, and Wambaugh used that book as a model for this one, and even used Capote's release forms to get interviews. Wambaugh could not get the surviving cop to tell the story so that Wambaugh could write the book. When Wambaugh told him about this book idea, and how it wasn't going to happen, Capote encouraged him to keep at it. So, with Capote's encouragement, Wambaugh finally got the surviving cop to cooperate, and the book got written. The whole subtext of the book is what I find fascinating, and that is: the surviving cop, who could not help his partner being killed, felt guilt that destroyed him emotionally. But the actual murderer and his partner felt no guilt whatsoever. Psychopaths can not feel guilt, even after they've murdered. The innocent man felt guilty, and the guilty men felt innocent. It's an incredible and wrenching and tragic contrast that underlies this whole book. I recommend it.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 4, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The cruel slaying of LAPD Officer Ian Campbell and the sadistic hunt for his surviving partner, Karl Hettinger in a Bakersfield onion field is vividly recounted in this Wambaugh non-fiction classic. Additionally, in-depth and fascinating studies are made of the cold-blooded killers, Gregory Powell and Jimmy Lee Smith. Finally, the heartbreaking psychological deterioration of Officer Karl Hettinger, a victim of survivor's guilt and hard-nosed, ignorant superiors is recounted in painful detail. An agonizing, dark, and horrible page in California history.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By J. Wickramasinghe on July 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I read this book many years ago. Last week, while I was browsing through used books in a Goodwill Store, I came across a hardbound copy in pristine condition. It was selling for $2.00. Needless to say, without hesitation, I bought it. I found myself an absolute treasure. Without a doubt in my mind, this is easily the finest non-fiction story of crime and retribution I have ever read, gripping and haunting thoughout. Only one other non-fiction crime story comes close to it, and that is SWORDFISH by David McClintick. If this book can be purchased, do so without hesitation. Jay Wickramasinghe, Citrus Heights, California
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Michael Tozer on August 25, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Master Storyteller Joseph Wambaugh shifts from fiction to non-fiction for this riveting account of the execution of a Los Angeles police officer and its aftermath. This excellent book was brought to the screen in a fairly accurate rendition starring James Woods and Ted Danson at the beginnings of their respective careers. Of the book I must say that my realization of the identity of the gardener late in the narrative was one of the most moving and dramatic experiences of my reading life. Wambaugh is a genius!
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