Picks and Pans Review: The Golden Orange

updated 05/21/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/21/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Joseph Wambaugh

Winston Farlowe is an ex-cop who likes to drink. A lot. He has got a bad back, a disability pension and a poor disposition. Tess Binder has seen three husbands come and go, taking a handful of her best years with them. Not by accident, Tess hooks up with Farlowe, drags him out of his favorite drinking saloons and into the good life, or what passes for the good life along California's Orange County Gold Coast.

Soon, Farlowe is downing drinks filled with crushed fruit, idling in the high-tone ranches, mansions and I health clubs of the aging rich. He's got all a man like him could ask: a beautiful woman at his side and round-the-clock bartender service. Tess also has what she wants: the perfect man to execute her perfect plan and to keep a tight lid on the reason for her father's death.

The Golden Orange has all the stamps of a Wambaugh novel: Southern California chains and cash: rich manipulators; ex-cops adrift without a shield to hide behind: greed, corruption and murder. It is his first novel in five years (since The Secrets of Many Bright) and his best one I since the glory days of The Blue Knight.

Wambaugh has been a writer now for longer than he was a cop, and the effort he has put into mastering his craft is evident in this book. The characters are scarred people, winners and losers who refuse to give in to grief. The writing is deep, perceptive and clear. Wambaugh has studied both sides. As a cop, he huddled with the desperate poor of East L.A.; as a rich writer, he lives among California's secluded elite and paints a strong picture of the way Gold Coast residents live and die.

Wambaugh has traveled a long way from his years working in the Hollenbeck Division of the Los Angeles I Police Department. Each of his books has been a major step forward in that journey. The Golden Orange is the biggest, boldest and best of those steps. (Morrow, $19.95)

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