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The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh
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The Onion Field (original 1973; edition 2007)

by Joseph Wambaugh

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6831113,982 (3.79)24
Member:vkleiss
Title:The Onion Field
Authors:Joseph Wambaugh
Info:Delta (2007), Paperback, 512 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh (1973)

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The first thriller/mystery I ever read, and the only one I've ever enjoyed. Every few years I try again to read a thriller but I guess this one was just very well-done. I remember identifying with the characters, even though I, of course, have nothing in common with them. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
An author friend of mine who knows what I’ve been working on suggested that I should read Joseph Wambaugh’s [The Onion Field]. He said that few writers these days are focusing on the real lives of policemen, detectives. Sure, procedurals and thrillers strain the shelves at your local bookstores, but few, if any, give you a look at a cop as he truly is – his life beyond the work, the problems and joys of real life. Most crime books focus on how the work invades and crowds life, until there really isn’t any life at all, and what existed before the work is tossed a quick nostalgic line or two. But Wambaugh, he said, went deeply into the psyche of the two policemen at [The Onion Field]’s center, letting them exhibit their full personalities and struggles so that the consequences of what happened to them is that much more troubling.

Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger, former Marines, made a car stop in an unmarked squad car while on patrol in Los Angeles in 1963. During the stop, the two crooks disarmed them and kidnapped them, taking them to a remote agricultural area near Bakersfield. There, Campbell was shot and killed. Hettinger escaped serious physical injury, but was never the same. Their actions that night, especially Hettinger’s as the survivor, were heavily scrutinized. A policy was enacted by the Los Angeles Police Department stating that officers were never to surrender their firearms, under any circumstances; that if they were confronted with such a situation, they were to fight at all costs. The killers were convicted after several trials that took up many years, but at a mammoth cost in resources and personal sacrifice.

One terribly interesting section features a “young red-faced vice officer at Wilshire station [who] had been a policeman less than three years.” Through his eyes, we see the debate about whether Hettinger sealed his partner’s fate or did the best thing by surrendering his firearm. The young officer lays out several other instances where cops were disarmed and kidnapped but survived. He chastises the departmental policy enacted after Campbell’s murder, laying it at the feet of administrators who don’t understand the street and the street cop’s mentality. He speaks up at roll-call in defense of Hettinger, criticizing the policy. I don’t know for certain, but I think this young cop is Wambaugh in anonymity, sending the message he wants the book to carry. Indeed, I’m told that this book helped to end Wambaugh’s law enforcement career with LAPD.

The thread running through the entire book is the fallout in Hettinger’s life over the event. At a time before post-traumatic stress was recognized, and in a field where any weakness signals the sharks, Hettinger is a sad case. He devolves into alcoholism and shoplifting, eschewing anyone who would try to talk to him about what he felt, what he was experiencing. If you didn’t have Wambaugh’s name on the front cover, you might be drawn to a conclusion that Hettinger himself wrote the book, given how deeply Hettinger’s inner life is on display. It’s the reason this book is so provocative. To be able to see a cop as something less than a superhero, something more than a broken-down bulldog, is a revelation.

Bottom Line: Brilliant, insightful glimpse into the mind of policemen – policemen as real people, with real lives, as we rarely think of them.

4 ½ bones!!!!! ( )
4 vote blackdogbooks | Apr 17, 2016 |
It's been many years, and perhaps a thousand books, since I read this book. If I reread it, my ranking might well be lower. But my recollection of this book is that I found it both chilling and compelling. I grew up in a small city in the Midwest so the thought that cops would be killed made it very scary. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
It's been many years, and perhaps a thousand books, since I read this book. If I reread it, my ranking might well be lower. But my recollection of this book is that I found it both chilling and compelling. I grew up in a small city in the Midwest so the thought that cops would be killed made it very scary. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
How can you say you like a book that is a true story of a tragedy. There should be a rating to give the author credit for a well written book, not necessarily that the reader liked the harsh truth. ( )
  GeneHunter | Mar 13, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385341598, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:32 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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