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Floating with Joe...


FLOATERS, JOSEPH WAMBAUGH’S 11TH NOVEL—the second set in his adopted hometown, San Diego—is due in hardcover from Bantam May 14. And for his legions of fans, it comes not a moment too soon. Beginning with the very first of his 15 books, The New Centurions, published more than 25 years ago, Wambaugh has never delivered less than a bestseller. But not since The Choirboys has the author seemed to have so much fun with his characters and the wacko world they inhabit.

An ex-LAPD cop, Wambaugh writes about what he knows best. And Floaters offers us the typical cast of Wambaugh characters. As usual, police are central to the plot. And then there are the pimps and prostitutes, the highbrows and lowlifes, the schemers and dreamers. But this time, there is an inanimate—if thoroughly anthropomorphized—central character: the America’s Cup.

Floaters is a tale of peculiar passion and perversity. It is also—in spite of the fact that it’s a tale of murder—very, very funny. The plot centers on a plan to rig the 1995 America’s Cup regatta. The plot is hatched by one Ambrose Willis Lutterworth Jr., Wambaugh’s fictional “Keeper of the Cup,” whose entire raison d’être revolves around the life of the Cup.

In his misadventures, Lutterworth, the sad scion of a not-so-old-guard Point Loma family, enlists the aid of a hooker named Blaze Duvall. And as the tale spins out, their trail leads the reader through a world of international sailing, yacht crazies, racing spies, wanna-be sailors, scam artists and cops. Cops like Norman G. “Letch” Boggs, the world’s foremost garlic gourmand and drooling sexist. And vice officer Rita Mason. And Fortney and Leeds, partners in the SDPD’s Harbor Unit. And the oft-married detective Anne “of a Thousand Names” Zorn, who will come as close as any of them to cracking the case of the America’s Cup Murder.

As usual, Wambaugh’s dialogue crackles with wit, and his plotting keeps the pages turning briskly. But ultimately, it’s the characters he draws, and Wambaugh’s navigations into the best and worst of human nature, that make Floaters sail. And soar. And for San Diego readers, those insights—along with tweaks for everyone from Dennis Conner to Bill Koch to the San Diego mayor—will fascinate.
In the spirit of his new novel, Joseph Wambaugh issued forth with the following sublimely silly answers to what San Diego Magazine regarded as seven supremely serious questions. (Note how the questions are so much longer than the answers.)

San Diego Magazine: Floaters revolves around the America’s Cup, an event that’s been described, by detractors, as “The Coma off Point Loma” and “Ennui at Sea.” Did you worry about whether there would be enough interest in the “rich boys’ sport” to win an audience for your new novel?

Joseph Wambaugh: Yes. That’s why it’s full of masseuses and murder. Who the hell wants to read about Koch and Conner?

SDM: But you take some good pokes at folks like Bill Koch and Dennis Conner—and even the mayor of San Diego—in Floaters. Are you going to lose any friends over this one?

J.W.: No. Nobody likes me to begin with.

SDM: Floaters is full of laughs. You seem to have had fun writing it. Is writing fun for you, or is that a master’s illusion?

J.W.: Writing is about as much fun as a hemorrhoidectomy.

SDM: The reading habits of Americans have changed since you first began writing. Which is to say we read fewer books. How much more difficult would it be for Joseph Wambaugh to crack the world of publishing with a first novel in 1996 than it was with his first, The New Centurions, almost three decades ago?

J.W.: The first thing I would do today is to get a contract from Books on Tape. Today’s college seniors can’t read a stop sign.

SDM: It’s been nearly a decade since your last nonfiction work, The Blooding. And you’ve had more than a few battles with the real-life subjects of your four nonfiction works—subjects who’ve sued you. Does that discourage the kind of serious work done in books like The Blooding and Echoes in the Darkness?

J.W.: Yes. I am no longer ever serious, except when I call for the torture and imprisonment of all trial lawyers. Sorry ... I meant “consumer attorneys.” If you doubt my frivolity, take a gander at the silly geek on the cover of your magazine.

SDM: You wrote novels while you lived in Los Angeles; you wrote a couple when you lived in Orange County; you wrote two with a Palm Springs backdrop, where you also have a home. And this is your second novel set in San Diego—your first since moving to Point Loma. Do you need to keep moving for inspiration, or are you going to stick around here for a while?

J.W.: A house is only good for two books. Therefore, I have to retire after the next book. Or move.

SDM: Did anybody ever say to you, “That book was such a natural it must have written itself”? And what was your answer?

J.W.: Right. And I gave birth to myself one winter day back in East Pittsburgh, PA, when I had nothing else to do.

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