Todd Nemet's Reviews > Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

Homicide by David Simon
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Mar 31, 09

bookshelves: kindle
Read in March, 2009

(I will start with a complaint: Terry Gross gushes over anything even vaguely related to David Simon -- a search of Fresh Air's show descriptions returns 66 results for a search on his name. Meanwhile, she hasn't done a single story on Battlestar Galactica. Don't forget about middlebrow science fiction, Terry!)

In this book David Simon chronicles the events of a Baltimore homicide detective squad during the year 1988. The book begins on Jan 1 and ends on Dec 31. In between there are 234 murders. As if that's not enough to keep them busy, they also have to investigate suicides, unattended deaths, police-related shootings, and the occasional political hot potato.

This is a dark, dark book, which means it will be funny to the less delicate among us. (We know who we are.) The description of the Christmas decorations in the homicide offices left me shaking with laughter. Some of it is decidedly unfunny to the detectives, like the murder of children and "taxpayers," as contributors to society are called. But everything else is fair game.

Some cases are "red balls," which means they have the maximum amount of attention from the supervisors and the press. Throughout the book one detective becomes obsessed with a red ball. It's interesting to watch the effect on him. He works 18 hour days for a month, his health deteriorates, he starts to burn out, he obsessively pursues any clue no matter how small. All for about $35k a year plus overtime.

There are a lot of characters to follow, but they are all described in such detail that they are easy to keep track of. You get a good sense of the squad room and what goes on at multiple crime scenes. Lengthy passages take place in other areas important to the detectives' jobs -- the morgue, the courthouse, emergency rooms. Toward the end of the book we visit the pauper's cemetery and find no comfort or meaning.

The Kindle edition has a very interesting section at the end that describes how the book was received, the making of it into a TV show, and a little bit about The Wire. (I haven't seen either.)

This book is slightly overwritten but still highly recommended. Before you start reading it clear out your schedule because you won't want to do anything else but click on the Next Page button for the next 48 hours.
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