Hollywood Hills by Joseph Wambaugh: They’re Back

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Former cop turned author Joseph Wambaugh is one of my favourite writers. His books and the characters who reside in them are brilliant. They are full of black humour, pathos, tragedy, and fun. Each and every participant in one of his books breathe. You find your self becoming attached to them all, even the villains.

He writes pretty impressive non-fiction books as well. Check out his Lines and Shadows for an in-depth and amazing look at how one San Diego policeman tried to help the problems faced by immigrants crossing the border. Innocents being slaughtered and raped by the gangs that prowled the empty desert canyons for victims.

But I digress.

Hollywood Hills is the fourth in a series of books about the cops that make up the Hollywood division in LA. Most of the familiar cast are back. “Hollywood Nate” Weiss the Screen Actors Guild card carrying cop, Flotsam and Jetsam the two surfer cops, and ex-basketball player Div Taylor and her partner ex-marine “The Gypsy” all feature heavily in this tale of Hollywood homicide and hokum.

There is a crime ring that is hitting all celebrity homes and robbing them blind. They use social networking to plan their robberies. Butler Raleigh Dibble works for Julius Hampton, a miserly skinflint that keeps Raleigh on a short leash. While at lunch the two men run into gay Art Gallery owner Nigel Wickland. Wickland tells Raleigh of an employment opportunity with widowed Leona Brueger, a member of the Hollywood elite and voracious cougar who has an interest in Hollywood Nate.

Soon Raleigh has jumped the Hamilton ship and set sail with Leona looking after her ill brother. Wickland now has Raleigh where he wants him and the two men plan to steal two very expensive pieces of art from the widow.

Twenty-two year old druggie Jonas Claymore and his equally drugged out girl friend Megan Burke decide to emulate the celebrity crime ring, dubbed the Bling Ring by the local media, and improve their chances of keeping supplied with the drug of their choice OxyContin. It is their entry into the world of crime that causes a serendipitous intermingling of their crime wave with Dibble’s and Wickland’s.

Meanwhile Hollywood Nate thinks he’s going to finally get the big break he’s been waiting for and the rest of the gang at the Hollywood division carry on dealing with the “not-so-normal” dealings with the nuts that make up the local citizenry that they are pledged to protect.

Like the other three books in this series, Hollywood Hills is damned entertaining. Wambaugh continues to treat us to our favourite characters everyday dilemma’s and introduces a few new ones. The pages of his books exude a poetic irony and delicious amount of crazy.

I do have to say that the “secondary” criminals in this book do seem to shadow some characters in his other books. But dealing with criminals on a daily basis for 10 years myself, I can say with pretty firm conviction, there isn’t a whole lot of variation between the folks who populate the world of the law-breaker.

A real 5 star addition to Wambaugh’s series about the Hollywood precinct.

Author Joseph Wambaugh. (courtesy of nndb)
Author Joseph Wambaugh. (courtesy of nndb)

The Tragic Case of James Bulger; Indecent Justice

On February 12 1993, 2-year-old James ‘Jamie’ Bulger was lead away by two 10-year-old lads while his mother paid for some chops for their tea. Two days later, his severed body was found on train tracks. He’d been savagely beaten and tortured and then as he was dying, he had been laid on the  tracks so that a train could hit his body.

The senseless and horrific death of a 2-year-old toddler shocked the nation and then the world. The police combed hours of CCTV footage and they spotted Jamie being led through the mall where his mum had purchased the chops. He was holding the hand of one of his killers.

The 2 boys responsible were arrested by the police and questioned after a neighbour of one of the lads had reported that Robert Thompson and his friend Jon Venables had skipped school on the day that Jamie was murdered and Robert had come home with blue paint on his jacket.

A tin of blue paint had been discovered near Jamie’s body.

The trial of Venables and Thompson began on 1 November 1993 and ended on 24 November 1993. The boys were given “life sentence” which in juvenile terms means that they would have to serve a minimum of 8 years of their sentence. Juveniles are sentenced differently from adults under English law. A “life sentence” means anything but.

Due to their young age (both lads were 10) the place of their “incarceration” was at a secure home or unit. Secure units are very different from a prison. Both lads “did well” and stayed at these units for their entire sentence.

In a move that stunned the public, in 2001 both lads were released from the secure units and given parole. They were given new identities; new passports, national insurance numbers and driving licenses, etc. The reports on both lads stressed that they were no longer a threat to the public.

It is interesting to note that both of the lad’s families were re-located and also given new identities while the trial was going on in order to protect them from the public’s outrage.

Despite the obvious indications that Jamie’s murder was sex related and that Thompson showed no remorse or culpability for Jamie’s murder either during the trial or later while he was incarcerated both boys were released with only one addition to their probationary licenses. That addition was that the parole officer should provide daily updates to their behaviour.

Not surprisingly Venables would be re-arrested in 2010 on charges of having indecent images of underage children on his computer and as that was a violation of his parole he was put back in prison. Proper prison this time and not the “nicey nicey” atmosphere of a secure unit.

Thompson has yet to re-offend. *At least as far as we know, he still has a protective anonymous cloak, courtesy of the courts.*

The aspect of this case that is so disgusting and that continues to shock and stun the general public is the amount of time and money the legal system has put toward guaranteeing the anonymity of these two offenders.

There was a worldwide injunction against the press that forbade any information about the two lads being published. Although this injunction was violated enough to tell the public that Venables was, in fact, back in prison and why.

But to the best of my knowledge, not one penny (or pence) was spent on aiding the family of James Bulger. The survivors of this horrific murder against a defenceless 2-year-old paid their own price. His parents Ralph and Denise both suffered from the strain of their ordeal and divorced.

The very idea of losing your child is too difficult to even imagine. The loss of your child by two other older children who were “coddled” by the system is even worse.

A few years back a couple of English “tabloid” newspapers featured a story on just how Juvenile prisoners are treated during their time of incarceration. A long list of “freebies” was listed (all of which is paid by the tax payer, and if you still don’t get it, that means by the victims and survivors of the crime committed) and that list included the use of PS3’s, PS2’s in the prisoners cells, Nintendo Wii‘s, televisions in their cells and day trips.

Incredibly this did not create an uproar. Instead the articles came out and after about three days, no one cared any longer. Despite the obvious message of “rewarding  bad behaviour instead of punishing it” the public’s reaction was not just disappointing, but puzzling.

It appears that more of the public have children incarcerated than children who are not. It appears that these parents are more than happy to have their criminal offspring set up with three square meals a day and all the benefits that the tax payer can afford.

If this is the case, it makes what happened to Jamie Bulger and his murderers obscene and indecent (and believe me there is a difference) and sadly, it does not appear that things are going to change any time soon.

Jamie’s father Ralph has finally broken his silence on his feelings about the whole thing. His book is on release and I can only hope that it provides some closure for the man and his ex-wife Denise. Hopefully the catharsis of writing this story will help him and anyone else in the predicament of seeing the criminals who’ve hurt their family living the proverbial “life of Riley.”

A big noise has been made by the government in this country about making prisons less enticing to criminals. But this is talking about the adult prisons. Juvenile prisons are governed by a different section of the Ministry of Justice and this section does not believe that juvenile offenders are anything more than misunderstood children.

Try telling that to Jamie Bulger’s family.

James Patrick Bulger (16 March 1990 – 12 February 1993)