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10 Best Joseph Wambaugh Books (2024)

Best Joseph Wambaugh BooksQuite a Past

The author I’ll be trying to find the best book and the best series in this writing is Joseph Wambaugh. He is an ex-police officer and he served as a US Marine from 1954 when he was just 17 years old to 1957. He mainly writes about the lives of policemen/women and police work in general, some of them fictional and some of them drawn from real-life stories.

Excellent Start

The author published his first book The New Centurions in 1971, while he was still a working detective. In a feat of excellence and a streak of luck, his first book would go on to get positive reviews from critics and he would achieve popularity early on. He later went on to become a full-time writer either because he was more passionate about writing than police work or because suspects kept asking for his autograph, which he claims happened multiple times.

Best Joseph Wambaugh Books

The Onion Field


Heartbreaking Story

I have decided to start off this article with the first in the list of the most popular Joseph Wambaugh books. It is the true crime story of two policemen who were on a routine traffic stop in 1963 and the two robbers who ran into them. The author raises critical questions on the effectiveness and purpose of the judicial system by using these four men’s stories and he also takes a dive into their lives and personalities.

I will not share the main event of the story with you as I think it would completely ruin the book for you, but I can say it’s a disturbing and heartbreaking one. The author first takes into his hand the lives of the four characters. He draws a clear image in your mind for them so you can understand the event better. After that, he focuses on the event’s effects on the characters.

Raising Attention

In the first among his best rated books, Joseph Wambaugh manages to draw one of the best descriptions of PTSD I’ve ever read. His questioning of the justice system that I mentioned is backed by logical, convincing arguments and feels really thought out as well. I mean, it is hard to ruin an interesting real-life story anyways but the author not only manages to retain the story’s intrigue but he also adds on to it with his writing expertise and experience in the field.

The Choirboys


Daring to Speak

Second in the order of best selling Joseph Wambaugh books, The Choirboys tells a fictional and haunting story. This book stands out in this list by being the first example of one of the author’s characteristics: even though Wambaugh lived in a period where cops are portrayed solely as strong and pretty superheroes, he would dare to portray policemen as real people with all their flaws and weaknesses. Just as he did in this one. 

Purging in Their Own Way

The name of the book refers to an activity the characters name “Choir Practice”, an off-duty night at a public park that consists of a lot of beer and an orgy. The ‘70s policemen mentioned in the story prescribe themselves one of these nights every time they are overwhelmed by the heaviness of their jobs as well as their own problems. The book goes through each of the officer’s reasons for needing an activity like this and brings it all together towards the end.

Just One Thing

The Choirboys is a piece periodically switching between a dark and a humorous one. I’d say it keeps the book interesting all the way through the end but I can’t go without mentioning that the humorous side is keen to slip into satire and this takes away from the story’s seriousness as a whole. Without that major flaw, I think The Choirboys could have been Joseph Wambaugh’s best book by an enormous margin.

The New Centurions


A More Usual Story

We are continuing our Joseph Wambaugh books ranked article with The New Centurions, another fictional piece by the author. Unlike The Choirboys, The New Centurions tells a story that is more interested in the glory of being a cop instead of its troubles. Because of this, I went in expecting a simpler and less than interesting book but thankfully that is not the case. Wambaugh builds up the characters very well and he does the same with the story too.

Watts Riots

The book mainly revolves around how the members of the police force view the general public they are sworn to protect. It is divided into segments with the three different stories it tells. The three different stories are about three different cops who are at different places in their careers, almost comparing their successes and failures. The most notable part is that through these officers with varying degrees of authority, we are shown the changes the force went through at every level as a result of the Watts riots.

Different Day Same Story

The New Centurions gives us a police story we are not very used to, a daily one. What I am trying to say is that it focuses mainly on the daily life of different policemen, without a crazed serial killer on the run or a threat to the government if not the whole world. This side of it makes it one of the best books by Joseph Wambaugh and even police fiction as a whole for me.

Hollywood Station Series


Action at Last

Hollywood Station, my personal best Joseph Wambaugh series, provides us with four-book long, intriguing, and sometimes thrilling stories of Hollywood cops, mainly the LAPD veteran “Hollywood Nate” Weiss. The books are more action/mystery focused than the author’s other words but taking place in somewhere as interesting as Hollywood, it simply fits in. Another interesting aspect of the series is that it features a lot of foreign characters -in a surprisingly not-racist way for its time- including European, Turkish, Filipino, and Chinese.

Book Order

These four Joseph Wanbaugh books in chronological order are; Hollywood – Station, Crows, Moon, and Hills. The first story in which we are introduced to the “squad” tells the story of unraveling a series of related crimes. The second story includes Hollywood Nate and Bix Rumstead getting caught up in an ugly, high-class divorce. In the third book “Hollywood Moon”, a complex web of criminals is discovered by the beloved Hollywood Nate, and finally, the fourth book is about the world of tricky criminals and con artists.

Recreating Stories

By now you have probably realized what the author wanted to do with the series. He takes stereotypical cop stories and interprets them in his own view. He also creates interesting characters that keep you wanting to read on and ties them to the plot very well. If you like the usual police story tropes but you are bored of the way they are worked with, this series might just be your next binge-reading material.

The Blooding


Revolution Brought on by Pain

In this one of Joseph Wambaugh’s best novels, another heartbreaking true-crime story is handled. Besides being the author’s first book taking place outside The United States, The Blooding is also notable in that it retells a story that revolutionized detective work by introducing DNA testing as a solid method of suspect identification. The title actually refers to this as, during the case, the police force decided to draw the blood of every city resident to get a DNA sample.

The story is about the search for the man who is responsible for the murder and r*pe of the fifteen-year-old Lynda Mann. The murder of Lynda Mann takes place in 1983 and even though there had been an extensive search consisting of more than one hundred and fifty people for the murderer, he was not to be found. In 1986 however, when another teenager named Dawn Ashforth was subject to the same fate as Lynda, the search for the horrible man eventually gets to a whole new level.

From All Angles

It is not hard at all to understand why The Blooding is one of the top rated Joseph Wambaugh books. The author not only focuses on the stories of the victims or the murderers but also gets up-close and personal with the lives of some other residents of the city and expectedly, some police officers. This makes up for a much more interesting read compared to the linear and impersonal true crime stories that are sadly the norm of the genre.

Harbor Nocturne


A Side Story of Sorts

The latest Joseph Wambaugh book, Harbor Nocturne would best be described as an unrelated sequel to the author’s acclaimed series Hollywood. It gives place to the beloved cop Hollywood Nate along with quite a few other memorable characters. It unsurprisingly takes place in Hollywood and is another story of the major crimes committed in the area.

The story of the new Joseph Wambaugh book is one of love, crime, and grave danger. It is told from the eyes of multiple, and in a great number of, characters including the ones I mentioned above. If you asked me who the book was really about though, I’d say it is not about a person as much as it is about Hollywood itself. All the characters play an almost archetypical Hollywood persona and their stories are basically just iconized Hollywood stories.


I don’t want to be rough but I can’t find a good way to put my thoughts into words for this piece; it is “usual” and boring. I felt like Wambaguh just did not care about bringing originality to this work of his. The things he would normally show in a humorous or satirical light, lack these aspects. The book may have had some potential but it is very undercooked if not just raw.

The Blue Knight


Your Friendly Neighborhood Cop

Next up among our Joseph Wambaugh book reviews we have is one from his earlier days, 1972 to be exact. I usually try and fill the first paragraph of my reviews with things that make a book unique but I am afraid The Blue Knight does not really have anything going for itself except just being a decent book.

The protagonist of the story is “Bumper” Morgan. A man who has spent the last twenty years of life as an honorable cop, held highly by the people he is sworn to protect and respected by his co-workers. And at the point the story starts, he wants to retire. In fact, he has three days left on the clock. He has gotten engaged with a professor and wants to spend the rest of his days in San Fransico with her. But it seems he might not be satisfied with the cop life just yet.

A Challenging Choice

As I said above, the book is a decent one. It changes tones very quickly which I think is a conscious choice reflecting how the mind of our old cop is running wild during the last days of his current life. The thing is, this is not an easy narrative technique to pull off and the author fails to put out a good enough job of it. The Blue Knight definitely falls short of being the best Joseph Wambaugh book.

Fire Lover: A True Story


A New Field

Fire Lover is the third true-crime story of Joseph Wambaugh that I’ll be going over in this book list. The author explores the life of a firefighter for the first time with this book as well as the relationship between the police force and the firefighters. He also takes another step and attempts to create an understandable villain, he aims to take us on the journey that made the villain who he is.


John Orr is the twisted man who is at the center of this story. He is a successful firefighter as his friends and family know him. More than that, he is one of the best arson investigators in the southern side of California as well as a writer with a passion to share his firefighting articles with other people. Yet, John Orr is a flawed man. Not even just flawed but malevolent as well. He has a side of him that craves violence, destruction, pain, and fear.

Unpopular Opinion

This will be an unpopular opinion given how underrated this book is but I think Fire Lover is one of the best Joseph Wambaugh novels to date. I like my villains well-developed and the author does a really good job of it. John Orr is not just a normal man committing horrendous acts because of his past suffering. Instead, he is an evil, irrational man whom Wambaugh portrays very accurately and therefore, realistically.

Echoes in the Darkness


A Book of Its Time

With Echoes in the Darkness, we have another true crime story in our hands. It caught my attention with being about a case that was still recent and relevant when the book was written. You don’t see this very often and I was intrigued as well as a little bit worried since this could have meant the author did not spend too long of a time working on the book.

It is about the murder of a woman like The Blooding but this time the woman is a teacher instead of a student. Her lifeless body was found inside the back of her own car in the parking lot of a hotel. More so, the two children she left behind vanished without a trace. The book analyzes how the event happened and how the two men responsible for the murder were caught. 

Silly at Best

I stated above that I had a bit of prejudice about the book not being a well-worked-on one. Well, my worry turned out to be true as I could barely make it to the end of the book. The characters felt caricatural, their personalities and the interactions between them just feel silly. Echoes in the Darkness is definitely not among the best books by Joseph Wambaugh despite the potential the story behind it had.

The Black Marble


Jaded Cops

The last book I will go over in search of the best Joseph Wambaugh book is The Black Marble. It’s about a “done with everything” detective Sgt. Valnikov and Natalie from the burglary squad, holding a grudge against all men. Valnikov is obsessed with the bottle of vodka in his hands and Natalie longs for a love she can never get her hands on. The main event of the story is the pair’s investigation of a theft case but Wambaugh focuses more on the characters rather than the events.


The most notable thing about the book is the author’s very apparent change of voice while still keeping his focus in the same places as before. It often pulls the classic Wanbaugh move of being funny and then gruesome and then funny again. It also explores the burn-out police workers often go through in a subtle, enjoyable manner. Although the concept of it does not sound like something the author usually writes about, I’d say it is one of the best novels by Joseph Wambaugh out of the sole virtue of being very enjoyable.

Robert Hazley

Robert is a science fiction and fantasy geek. (He is also the best looking Ereads writer!) Besides reading and writing, he enjoys sports, cosplay, and good food (don't we all?). Currently works as an accountant (would you believe that?)