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  • Lance Mannion
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Bill Altreuter

The Martin Beck books are at the top of my detective series list-- they are all terrific, although I'm told that the English translations are not particularly faithful.

Lance Mannion

Bill, do you mean the translations veer from the original plots? I'm working my way through the series, about to finish The Man on the Balcony and jump over The Laughing Policeman, which was the first one I read, to The Fire Engine That Disappeared, and each of them so far has had a different translator. Five books, five different translators, but what they have in common is a matter of fact, almost official report style prose, functional but clunky. Maybe the Swedish originals are much better written?


Since you used a phrase I haven't heard in nearly two decades, just how was a "panty raid" supposed to work? What, exactly, were the raiders supposed to do and what were they supposed to get out of it?

Bill Altreuter

The originals are darker. The plots are the same, and most of the details, but it is made more clear that Beck is miserable in his marriage, and has been for a long time. Or so I'm informed. I have always found them plenty dark.

Tom Mason

I'll have to see Laughing Policeman again. My only memory is the relationship between Matthau and Dern and thinking they should do that in another movie.

Have you seen Man On The Roof?

Phil Nugent

I don't know if you've read Wambaugh's book, but I don't think he should be let off the hook for the movie version's awfulness just because he didn't like it. The novel is largely black comedy, an attempt at a sort of urban warrior's "Catch-22", and though the cops behave stupidly and swinishly, the reader is supposed to understand that their environment has gotten so bad that, like the surgeons in "MASH", they have to behave like lunatics to keep from really going insane. Overall, it isn't as repulsive as Aldrich's movie, but it has a fake tragic ending, asking us to weep for these good men who abuse their badges and act like pigs, after somebody gets killed and the mean old bosses are so unfair as to hold some of them accountable. I suspect that Wambaugh was enraged that the movie substituted a happy ending that was less sentimental than his own, but the worst thing Aldrich did to him was capture the core of the material faithfully enough to expose the self-pity and ugliness that was already ingrained in the book.

I remember that when Wambaugh first appeared on the scene in the '70s, he was a pop culture hero for awhile, first because of his cop-turned-writer's sympathetic depiction of police officers and then for his daring to complain about how his books were filmed. But "The Choirboys" is tainted by something that was always present in his work and that he subsequently let all hang out: the kind of cop's mentality that applies a forgiving, boys-will-be-boys attitude towards anything cops do, while looking on anyone out of uniform as a potential arrest. It ultimately led him to the mess of the case he wrote about in the book and TV miniseries "Echoes in the Darkness", where he went to town painting a high school principal who'd been convicted of murder as a true son of Satan, only to have the man's conviction overturned for prosecutorial misconduct, including the news that Wambaugh had paid one of the cops $50,000 on condition that the guy he liked best for the villain of the piece be arrested.

Lance Mannion

Phil, I haven't read Choirboys. I think the only books by Wambaugh I've read are The Onion Field and Echoes in the Darkness and The New Centurions (back when I was a kid and thought I was being grown up by reading it). I put Choirboys on reserve at the library and it just came in. But you think I shouldn't bother?

Didn't know that about Echoes in the Darkness. That school is near where my wife grew up and the story was big news around there, of course. The principal was widely despised before it came out. Wambaugh wasn't the only one who wanted him for the murderer.

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