If anything, The Golden Orange is a great time capsule of Southern California during the 1980’s. California has always been an enigmatic phenomenon to me. I’ve only been there a handful of times but loved every visit. I started reading this a few years ago aboard a flight from California to New York (connecting there from Honolulu). The family was staying in Hawaii for an additional week but I had to return for work. I sat next to a guy who was an executive for one of the major television networks. He kept asking me about different televisions shows, none of which I knew. Each seemed to be one of these specialized crime investigation dramas that saturate prime time. Frustrated and dismayed, his last words to me were, “you do watch television, don’t you?” His tone was condescending, as though this failure in my character was akin to not bathing.
I’d never heard of Joseph Wambaugh until I’d read an interview with James Ellroy. It was your typical Ellroy interview wherein he describes himself as God reincarnate (and Raymond Chandler as ‘softheaded’). Ah…uh huh.
But he did mention Joseph Wambaugh as a big inspiration. Wambaugh was a former LAPD detective who went on to have a prolific career as a crime novelist (The Onion Field, The New Centurions or The Glitter Dome). A while after reading that Ellroy interview, I couldn’t find any Wambaugh anywhere. Once again, the Kailua Library Bookstore saved the day.
I’ve read a lot of Wambaugh since picking up this copy of The Golden Orange, but this one is still my favorite. It chronicles the misadventures of Winnie Farlowe, a former police officer living the bum life amid the Newport Yachting Scene in Orange County (thus the title). Farlowe seems to be rescued (in a way) by the beautiful divorcee, Tess Binder. Tess has a past, though, that prevents them from entering the zone of happily ever after.
Wambaugh’s story line keeps you going in this book but he really hooks you with his characters. Most of the time when I read mysteries, I forget the mystery itself – who did what, what the scheme was, etc. Personally I don’t think a good mystery writer should even bother too much with establishing a clever labyrinth of who-dunnits (forgive me Dan Brown). A good mystery keeps a steady stream of interesting characters throughout the narrative. That's what you end up remembering.