Wambaugh returns to the novel after two spellbinding nonfiction police procedurals (Echoes in the Darkness, 1986; The Blooding, 1988), and again--as in The Secrets of Harry Bright, 1985--ties in with an alcoholic ex-cop protagonist. For ghoulish glee, vividness, and horror, this novel has far less wattage than any earlier Wambaugh fiction. Nearly a hundred pages go by before any genuine suspense begins to knot up, and by then the reader has only the dimmest interest in Winnie Farlowe, the 40-year-old ex-cop being set up to take the fall for a murder (or perhaps non-murder) he did not commit and which was an accident anyway--a statement not to be explained here. It's also hard for the reader to feel much for Winnie's pivotal love-interest, in this case a rich woman down to her last $50,000 and looking for a millionaire husband or a scam to get her back into the big bucks. On California's Orange County Gold Coast, Winnie is a waterfront drank on forced retirement from the Newport Beach Police Department. He achieves immense notoriety on a Christmas escapade when he diverts his public ferry and runs it into a yacht during a sea-festival. Suddenly he's being courted by Tess Binder, daughter of a suicide millionaire and now a relatively down-at-heels divorcÃ‰e. How can Tess put up with this lowlife? Well, one wonders. But she gets him into her spell, then springs a naughty trap on him--that may not be a trap. Along the way, suggestions arise of A.A. to come. And Wambaugh sets his tale against the outlandish detail of rich women swimming in gold. Wambaugh's Gold Coast has none of the fabulous lived-in richness of Nelson DeMille's picture of Long Island superwealth in The Gold Coast (p. 204), and the whole setting and stow have a knocked-together quality that makes them fail to catch Fire. One career strikeout?--not a bad record.