December 09, 1985 12:00 PM

by Joseph Wambaugh

Unlike many popular writers who hit it big with best-sellers early in their careers, Wambaugh has not coasted. He has produced impressive nonfiction (The Onion Field) and in this latest novel provides top-quality, glossy entertainment from beginning to end. There is something original, bright or funny on almost every page. The plot has to do with a couple of Los Angeles cops who spend a week at a California desert town called Mineral Springs. They are looking for the solution to a murder that took place 17 months earlier. The son of a wealthy man had been found in the charred wreck of a Rolls, a bullet hole in his head. The police force at Mineral Springs is made up of people that Harry Bright, a sergeant on the force, recommended to the town’s chief; all of them are cops who have been in a jam someplace. Wambaugh delights in telling the odd stories about how these misfits goofed up, stories with details so gritty that the reader has to suspect they are inspired by true events. Wambaugh also does a wonderful set piece describing a golf game with a drunken cop and an even drunker old lady. The dialogue is occasionally too good to be true, as when a woman turns down an ardent male with: “Let’s put it this way: I’ll date you when Jeane Kirkpatrick becomes a Playboy bunny.” And there is plenty of tough cynicism from an ex-cop-turned-saloon-keeper, who says, “That’s what police work’s come to. Every time a cop cranks on the cuffs too tight some guy shows up in court with a surgical collar, a body cast and F. Lee Bailey.” Give Wambaugh the reward. He’s delivered another solid hit. (Morrow, $17.95)

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