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The Onion Field | [Joseph Wambaugh]

The Onion Field

Hollywood. Saturday night. A broken taillight leads to a routine traffic stop. It shouldn’t have changed the lives of the four men involved, but it did. The Onion Field is the frighteningly true story of a fatal collision of destinies that would lead two young cops and two young robbers to a deserted field on the outskirts of Los Angeles, towards a bizarre execution and its terrible aftermath.
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Publisher's Summary

Hollywood. Saturday night. A broken taillight leads to a routine traffic stop. It shouldn’t have changed the lives of the four men involved, but it did. The Onion Field is the frighteningly true story of a fatal collision of destinies that would lead two young cops and two young robbers to a deserted field on the outskirts of Los Angeles, towards a bizarre execution and its terrible aftermath.

The Onion Field is the basis for the movie starring James Woods and John Savage.

©1973 Joseph Wambaugh (P)2010 Audible, Inc.

What the Critics Say

“More ambitious than In Cold Blood and equally compelling.” (The New York Times)

“Wambaugh is the best in the business.” (Kathy Reichs)

“No other writer illuminates the heart beneath the badge better or more honestly than Joseph Wambaugh" (Robert Crais)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.8 (390 )
5 star
 (138)
4 star
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3 star
 (71)
2 star
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1 star
 (22)
Overall
3.8 (303 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
 (51)
2 star
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1 star
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Story
4.0 (308 )
5 star
 (123)
4 star
 (101)
3 star
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2 star
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1 star
 (12)
Performance
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  •  
    Avalon California USA 03-03-13
    Avalon California USA 03-03-13 Member Since 2015

    Bibliophile, English Teacher, Wordsmith

    HELPFUL VOTES
    37
    ratings
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    Story
    "Haunting"

    This true story is of a murder that shocked the City of Angels, and became the impetus for dramatic change in police procedure, both in potential hostage situations, and, much later, in recognizing and understanding emotional trauma, PTSD, and survivor's guilt.

    The characters are depicted with precision. I feel like I know them, or knew them, as the last of the four recently died (2012). Wambaugh is a master, a former policeman who writes with sensitive eloquence, an understanding of the people and places that makes his work leap off the page and seize your senses.

    I first read this book many years ago and have never been free of its spell. The audiobook is even better. The memorable individuals, immortalized in this, Wambaugh's best work, continue to puzzle and fascinate. The onion field is very near what is now Interstate 5 in California's San Joaquin valley, just over the Grapevine from LA. I travel this road frequently, and never pass it without a nod and a prayer for the victims, the fateful events so hauntingly penned here, and the loss of innocence that touched so many people. Thank you, Joseph Wambaugh, for this historical treasure.

    17 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Betty 11-18-13
    Betty 11-18-13 Member Since 2015

    diverduck

    HELPFUL VOTES
    67
    ratings
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    54
    41
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    4
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    "Sublime narration from a well written book"
    Any additional comments?

    This is my favorite true crime book. Joseph Wambaugh brings three dimensional personalities to these real life characters, without judging them; That is left up to the reader/listener. A mixture of comedy within this awful tragedy. Jonathan Davis is a superb narrator for this particular book. If you have seen the film (a must if not) Mr. Davis skillfully captures a fine interpretation of the actor's voices...especially James Wood.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    B Rose Ivins, UT USA 01-17-15
    B Rose Ivins, UT USA 01-17-15 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    ratings
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    129
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    "Excellent book!"
    What made the experience of listening to The Onion Field the most enjoyable?

    The narrator, the prose like writing, so many things.


    What did you like best about this story?

    It's very hard to say what was best. This book is so intense about so many human feelings and behavior.


    Have you listened to any of Jonathan Davis’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    Not sure,but he was terrific!


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Yes I did many times. Mostly cried especially for the officers.


    Any additional comments?

    This book is long, so I wasn't sure I'd like it. It is worth every minute of time. Has to be one of the very best books I've listened to or read. Incredible!

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Simon Saratoga, CA, USA 11-29-12
    Simon Saratoga, CA, USA 11-29-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
    9
    ratings
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    "One of the best books I have listened to in ages"

    A very refreshing story told in a very unusual way - starting with the childhoods of the main protagonists and working through the crime and the subsequent drama in their lives. Fascinating details of how each of them is impacted by the crime and an enthralling read. Thoroughly recommended.

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    KismetKat11 Evanston, IL USA 03-01-15
    KismetKat11 Evanston, IL USA 03-01-15 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Still fascinating after all these years"

    This incident happened before I was born, but my Dad was always a reader of Joseph Wambaugh so I thought I'd check it out. It's very well done, without sensationalism or exploitation. Spoiler Alert*** It was haunting to hear the impact of the crime on the surviving officer and so frustrating that LAPD did nothing to help him in the aftermath. It was a different time. Also, it gave interesting insight into why retrials happen, why these types of cases just go on and on in the courts. But it did so without becoming dry or detailed. It was really well done and I'm interested in reading more Wambaugh books. I think I'll check out "The Blooding" next.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bradley Santa Monica, CA, United States 01-12-12
    Bradley Santa Monica, CA, United States 01-12-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "RIVETING"
    If you could sum up The Onion Field in three words, what would they be?

    THIS IS A TRUE STORY. UNBELIEVABLE


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    POOR PARTNER WHO LIVES.


    What does Jonathan Davis bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    GREAT READ.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    GETTING THE KILLER.


    Any additional comments?

    I WISH EVERY WAMBAUGH NOVEL WAS IN AUDIO FORMAT!!!

    11 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. C. Edens Georgia, USA 01-12-14
    J. C. Edens Georgia, USA 01-12-14 Member Since 2015

    Been on/off with Audible since '07, when I found myself long-term in China, desperate for English language books. Love a good story.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
    ratings
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    "Stunning true crime tale from the 1960s"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    My dad recommended this book to me, as he spent 25 years in law enforcement, and said it was particularly affecting. The case in this book reverberated across police departments the nation over, impacting the way many of them interacted with dangerous people. I see why Joseph Wambaugh went on to do this full-time, because the story is gripping, and we get a great sense of all four of the lives and perspectives of the major players involved in the story.


    Did the plot keep you on the edge of your seat? How?

    Yes! I try not to look up too many details of a true crime story as I'm reading or listening to it, since I don't want to spoil certain pieces. So I only looked this up in greater detail once I knew who died/the main incident.

    "The Gardener" is an excellent device for driving the story. If you get this audiobook, you'll meet him and know what I mean.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    Not because it was happy, but the actual events The Night in the Onion Fields are WONDERFULLY written and read. You feel the same stress and fear and confusion all these men must have felt.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    I felt quite sad for Karl Hettinger. It seemed a deep tragedy equally as much for the ones who DID make it out of the Onion Field, who carried that burden far and long. Though I didn't feel very much sympathy for him, Jimmy Smith is portrayed as the unlucky, dumb, complex person he probably was.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Glenn 02-25-15
    Glenn 02-25-15
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
    ratings
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    "Disappointment"

    My wife and I listen to audiobooks while driving on long trips. Some books are fantastic, and some are just mediocre based either on a poor story, poor writing, or a poor choice for narration. But we always listen to them from start to finish and enjoy them.
    We bought this audio book based on the ratings, the synopsis, and the sample read. We started the book the other day, and listened to it for roughly half an hour before turning to one another and commenting, "this book is just bad!". How disappointing. Fortunately, we had another book in reserve that was utterly fantastic (Stone Cold: Joe Pickett).
    What was wrong with this book? Well...
    It started off SUPER slow with pointless and endless backgrounds on the two main characters and how much they had in common. Had this built to something, fine. Again, we listened for a good half hour before giving up. It didn't build to anything. In fact, the whole book seemed to progress at this same slow, pointless pace. There was so little of interest in moving any sort of plot forward that it was just painful.
    Next, the narration accentuated the fact that the story was slow and dull. The narrator would've been fine for a better book, but for this one it seemed to just drive home that the book was putting the narrator to sleep as he read it.
    Anyway, needless to say that we didn't get any farther into it than we did. But we did give it a fair try. This is the first book of the 12 we've listened to that we gave up on.
    Hopefully this review saves someone else the disappointment we experienced.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    PAUL surprise, az, United States 03-20-15
    PAUL surprise, az, United States 03-20-15 Member Since 2011

    my ipod and audible make the daily 10 mile walks a "breeze"....

    HELPFUL VOTES
    15
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    "GREAT READ...."

    I HAD NEVER HAD THE OCCASION TO READ THE BOOK BUT ONCE I STARTED IT WAS ONE YOU DON'T WANT TO PUT DOWN....THE DETAIL THAT WAMBAUGH GIVES ABOUT THE CHARACTERS IS OUTSTANDING...I SAW THE MOVIE(LONG AGO AND HAD FORGOTTEN ABOUT IT) AND IT WAS OKAY BUT AS ALWAYS...YA JUST CAN'T BEAT THE ORIGINAL...GREAT READ.....I WALK A GREAT DEAL EVERY DAY AND IT IS A PERFECT TIME TO LISTEN TO A BOOK.....ONION FIELD MADE THE MILES FLY BY......HOORAY FOR THE BOOK AND THE EXTRA WALKING....

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    George Payne Prince William, VA United States 02-28-15
    George Payne Prince William, VA United States 02-28-15 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
    ratings
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    "Worth the trip."

    Saw the movie back in the day so I thought I knew what happens... 30 + years later I get it. What a tale... The American justice system , PTSD and bagpipes.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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