The Choirboys (novel)
The Choirboys (ISBN 0-440-11188-9), a novel is a controversial 1975 work of fiction written by Los Angeles Police Department officer-turned-novelist Joseph Wambaugh. In 1995 the novel was selected by the Mystery Writers of America as Number 93 of The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time.
The Choirboys is a tragicomic parody about the effects of urban police work on young officers, seen through the exploits of a group of Los Angeles police officers in the Wilshire Division of the Los Angeles Police Department.
A group of ten patrol officers on the nightwatch conducts end-of-shift get-togethers they euphemistically call "choir practices" (possibly to hide their true nature from superiors but actually a sardonic reference). These "choir practices" almost always involve heavy drinking, complaints about their superior officers, and war stories (and, occasionally, group sex with a pair of lusty, overweight barmaids). They hold the choir practices in MacArthur Park because it is in another division's territory and "one does not shit in one's own nest."
Each of the officers is disillusioned, to varying degrees, that many of the people they're paid to protect are not unlike the suspects they arrest, and that the ridiculous regulations of their department are onerously enforced on them while their commanders (without skills in police work) indulge themselves hypocritically. Wambaugh's portrayals of the ten officers are stereotypes of varied types found in police departments in the 1970s, albeit well-drawn, but his most cutting descriptions are saved for the brutal "black-glove officer," Roscoe Rules. The theme of police officer suicide, which runs through many of Wambaugh's books, provides a grim undercurrent to the black humor of the novel and suggests a sub-conscious motivation for their activities.
Due to the popularity of the book, the slang term "choir practice" became a somewhat popular euphemism for off-duty recreational activities even if it does not involve alcohol.
The Choirboys is considered an indictment of the LAPD hierarchy in several ways: 1) the choirboys' dislike and distrust of command-level officers; 2) the way the investigation into the shooting was handled; and 3) many of their superiors' apathetic attitudes about the pressures officers have to deal with. Wambaugh, however, summarized the conduct of the choirboys both on and off-duty by having Sgt. Yanov, their field supervisor, comment to his superior at the conclusion: "They weren't troublemakers...they were just policemen. Rather ordinary young guys. Maybe a little lonelier than some. Or scared."
Wambaugh's previous LAPD novels, The New Centurions and The Blue Knight, had been conventional and straightforward portrayals of his experiences. With The Choirboys he "found his voice," and thereafter his novels were stylistic lampoons of not only the Los Angeles police world but the Hollywood lifestyle, and often filled with black comedy. Wambaugh, by then a successful author, resigned from the LAPD after fourteen years of service in order to publish The Choirboys without retribution from those he burlesqued. The Choirboys is also significant in that Wambaugh turned to the bizarre anecdotes of others (which he terms "cop talk") to provide the grist for his writing after previously drawing from his own experience.
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