It was 10:05 a.m. when he parked his Corvette on the street in North Park at the office of Orson Ellis Talent Unlimited. Orson was a failed talent agent, formerly of Hollywood, U.S.A., now living in San Diego, California, who’d made a “scientific” study of his failure as a Hollywood agent, scientifically concluding that it was the result of his mother not dubbing him Marty, Michael, Mort, or some other name beginning in M.
After locking his Vette, he noticed a passing coach full of elderly tourists, probably going somewhere like La Jolla, where they’d discover that they could spend two months at a timeshare at the Lawrence Welk Resort with unlimited golfing for what a simple “frock” would cost in a pricey La Jolla boutique. He knew that most of the seniors would be wearing walking shorts, and would have varicose veins like leeches clinging to their poor old legs.
He also realized that the seniors were not that much older than himself. It made him think of polyps. Before entering Orson Ellis Talent Unlimited, he decided that Mother Nature is a pitiless cunt.
The agency was not impressive, but Thirtieth Street and University Avenue was not a trendy address. Orson had decorated the place to make you think you could actually get a job there, until you realized that all the inscribed photos of famous movie stars lining the walls weren’t clients, only people to whom he’d sucked up during his twenty years of failure in Hollywood.
— from Finnegan's Week by Joseph Wambaugh
I’m the new kid on the block,” says former LAPD detective and current bestselling author Joseph Wambaugh. He refers to the move, in June of this year, to his Point Loma home, though he lived for the preceding three years in Rancho Santa Fe.
Actually, Wambaugh was a new kid in San Diego in 1954. He remembers getting on a bus at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot after enlisting, shortly after he moved here with his parents from Pittsburgh when he was 17. “My hair was slicked back in a D.A. Remember those?” He recalls the sergeant grinning evilly at him and his ’do asking him, “ ‘You one of those L.A. cats?’ At that moment,” Wambaugh says, “I wanted my mommy.”
Fifty-six-year-old Wambaugh sits at a cocktail table at Qwiigs Bar & Grill in Ocean Beach in late September sipping a vodka and tonic. He looks a boyish 45, dressed in khaki Dockers, a button-down emerald shirt, and brown suede walking shoes. His sunglasses hang around his neck from a cord, and he smiles easily recalling his first memories of San Diego. He cautions against the Los Angelization of the city. When asked if he hates L. A., he says, “Now I do. I didn’t always.”
Wambaugh’s 14th book and 10th novel appeared from William Morrow & Co. in October. Finnegan's Week is set entirely in San Diego and Tijuana. The events take place during one week in October of 1992, just before the presidential elections.
The story involves 45-year-old Finbar “Fin” Finnegan, a ‘crimes against property” detective working out of the SDPD’s Southern Division, who is also an aspiring actor looking for a role in the locally filmed television series Harbor Nights (read Silk Stalkings). Fin is assigned to investigate the theft of a bobtail van hauling toxic waste, whose drivers decide to steal a few thousand pairs of flight deck shoes from the U.S. Navy since the drivers are often in the North Island warehouse unsupervised.
The van, in turn, is stolen from the thieves, along with the toxic waste, and “good cop” 40ish Nell Salter, with the district attorney’s environmental crimes unit, is called in. Salter and Finnegan work the case with 28-year-old Navy investigator Bobbie Ann “Bad Dog” Doggett.
This unlikely trio of sleuths is up against the moronic and truly scary Shelby Pate, a meth freak biker with a guilty conscience; Abel Durazo, his more phlegmatic and laid-back Mexican partner; and their boss, the sociopathic yuppie scum Jules Temple. The case is so flat-out weird, amorphous, and largely unsolvable, it has all the earmarks of real life.
But Wambaugh shakes his head and maintains, “The only idea I had was doing something with toxic waste. I didn’t know anything about it. I asked my friend [SDPD detective] Tony Puente, to whom I dedicated the book, to line me up with people who know about toxic waste. That’s how I started with the environmental crimes investigators. One was very helpful, Donna Blake out of the D.A.’s office. I sort of gave her job to Nell Salter.
“And then I was interviewing some cops, and they said, ‘You know, they have a lot of toxic waste over at the Naval Air Station [North Island] .’Sol talked with the director of security over there. He said, ‘Oh, yeah, they’re always coming in here. The Navy creates waste all over the world — some of it’s nuclear, some of it isn’t. The civilian contractors are always coming in.’ So I got the idea that I would have a civilian contractor who is doing something funny. Then I started interviewing people at the Naval Air Station. I don’t know, it just grew.”
Finnegan's Week is a well-plotted novel with an ending that is refreshingly ragged, again, striking a note more like life than fiction.
“I don’t usually do the detective story genre ending where the hero confronts the killer and triumphs. In most of my novels the detectives working on the case — at least in my recent novels — don’t even understand what has happened. The reader understands; the detectives don’t. In my last one, Fugitive Nights, the same thing happened. Only the reader knows what really happened. The detectives never will.
“I sort of relegate plot a little bit down on the list of importance in my mind. I don’t really have an outline when I start a book. If I did, it wouldn’t be any good. I create characters and, if you’re really cooking, they take over. They direct you. You follow them.