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The New Centurions by Joseph Wambaugh

The New Centurions (1970)

by Joseph Wambaugh

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I remarked to my husband as I was reading that this, The Choirboys and The Blue Knight should all be required reading for all law enforcement officers, especially metropolitan ones. Once again Wambaugh provides such an interesting and believable portrait of life as a cop in decades ago LA. While this is going on 40 plus years since the first publication, it could just as well have been set in this century as well as this decade. While I’m sure it’s was shocking in 1970, it’s just as much sobering in 2012 in that we’re forced to see that some things never really change. Without a doubt Wambaugh remains the master of portraying big city policing, the funny, the sad and the reality of life as a cop. ( )
  debavp | Apr 8, 2012 |
"The New Centurions" is Joseph Wambaugh's first foray into fiction novels. Prior to the publication of this book, Wambaugh had been known solely as a true crime author of such works as "The Onion Field." And who would expect anything less? He was a bonafide L.A. PD police officer and detective, and one of the cardinal commandments of authorship is "write what you know." So at the time, "Centurions" was a substantial departure from his previous works. And honestly, it shows.

The main problem with the book is that there is no plot. The story follows three L.A. PD officers from the same academy class over the course of their careers. Each section of the novel is divided into three separate chapters, one for each of the officers, and each section covers one year. As time goes on they develop from academy cadets to seasoned officers, eventually coming back together in the chaos of the infamous Watts riots. But other than that, there's not much of a plot to hold the story together. Consequently the action meanders.

I suppose you could say that "Centurions" is an over-sized character study. Wambaugh takes great pains to illustrate the gradual development of each officer, their fears and insecurities and foibles. He really does a great job of it, and he makes it an entertaining book because of that. The law enforcement anecdotes by themselves were worth the price of admission (so to speak), and Wambaugh's skill at characterization was what kept me reading. But well-developed characters alone do not a successful novel make. It's a major facet, of course, but there needs to be something more. Mainly a plot. And the internal ansgt of a trio of insecure characters doesn't fit the bill.

If there had been an overarching plot to the story, this book would have gotten more than three stars from me. And that's not to say that "Centurions" isn't entertaining or enjoyable or any number of positive epithets. To be sure, Wambaugh is good at what he does, but "The New Centurions" has the after taste of an angsty faction vignette on the topic of "emotion." The tools are all there for one hell of a police procedural tale, and indeed, in later works Wambaugh is able to put them together quite successfully. It's just that, like many writers, he falls short of that achievement in his earlier work. ( )
  WillyMammoth | Mar 29, 2011 |
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Book description

Sarge Duron, the tough, competent ex-Marine who learned everything fast - except how to escape his Chicano identity ...
Gaut Plebesly, the baby-faced youth who was tops at entrapping prostitutes, and painfully unsure of his own manhood ...
Roy Fehler, who liked to think of himself as a liberal, until he came face to face with his own true feelings about blacks ...

They were men, with money troubles, woman troubles, all kinds of troubles ... They were also cops, part of the new breed who had to deal with unrest and violence of a society coming apart all around them.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0446509221, Mass Market Paperback)

Ex-cop turned #1 New York Times bestselling writer Joseph Wambaugh forged a new kind of literature with his great early police procedurals. Here in his classic debut novel, Wambaugh presents a stunning, raw, and unforgettable depiction of life behind the thin blue line.

In a class of new police recruits, Augustus Plebesly is fast and scared. Roy Fehler is full of ideals. And Serge Duran is an ex-marine running away from his Chicano childhood. In a few weeks they'll put on the blue uniform of the LAPD. In months they'll know how to interpret the mad babble of the car radio, smell danger, trap a drug dealer, hide a secret, and-most of all-live with the understanding that cops are different from everyone else. But for these men, these new centurions, time is an enemy. The year is 1960. The streets are burning with rage. And before they can grow old on this job, they'll have to fight for their lives...

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:14 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A new class of LAPD recruits are about to start their training on the streets of Los Angeles. But time is no friend to these particular new centurions. The Los Angeles hoods are burning with rage, a training-ground no longer, the streets are now a killing-ground.… (more)

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