Floaters by Joseph Wambaugh
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
"She lay halfway up the steps on her back, her little skirt hiked above her red panties. A coil of intestine, pink as bubble gum, lay on her thin milky thigh."
What an exasperating read! Joseph Wambaugh's Floaters has an interesting and well-constructed plot, a richness of believable technical and procedural detail, and a solid grounding in external events. Yet the pedestrian writing and inferior characterizations prevent from considering this book a worthwhile addition to the crime drama genre.
The plot is located in San Diego in 1995 and revolves around the challenger series to the celebrated America's Cup yachting competition: the winner of the series will gain the right to challenge the American team who are the cup holders. The story is composed of several intertwined threads: the main four plot lines feature the "Keeper of the Cup" - a member of the San Diego Yacht Club who travels with the cup where it is needed, two San Diego prostitutes, a group of officers from the San Diego Police Department, and two "water cops" - members of the San Diego Harbor Unit. The main premise of the story is an attempt to tinker with the regatta to prevent the powerful New Zealand team from winning the challenge. Meanwhile the cops are trying to set up a vile pimp for a fall, there are two murders, and the plot moves fast to keep the reader interested.
While plotwise the novel is a good read there are hardly any real people among the main figures: the characterizations are as thin as paper and most of them are just caricatures. For instance, detective Letch likes garlic in his food, and the odor of his body, mentioned twenty or so times, is almost all that we learn about him as a person. But the worst is the "humor." Crude jokes - like comparing some politicians of the era to the shape of human excrement - would be OK if only they were funny: alas the author fails in this respect. He also seems to be bent on titillating the reader with the "porn of death," as evidenced by the epigraph.
On the positive side the reader will learn a lot about the yachting community: the whole entourage of a major yachting competition and the "cuppie" culture (cuppies are groupies of the Cup) are believably portrayed. Since the author is a former member of the Los Angeles Police Department I hope that the procedural and technical details of police activities are as accurate as they seem in the novel. Having lived in San Diego for over a half of my life I appreciate the location of the plot - and a nice mention of my workplace of 35 years - although I wish the local character of this city came through even stronger.
Good plot, inept psychology, atrocious attempts at humor.
Two and a quarter stars.
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