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Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

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From the creator of HBO's The Wire, the classic book about homicide investigation that became the basis for the hit television show.

The scene is Baltimore. Twice every three days another citizen is shot, stabbed, or bludgeoned to death. At the center of this hurricane of crime is the city's homicide unit, a small brotherhood of hard men who fight for whatever justice is possible in a deadly world.

David Simon was the first reporter ever to gain unlimited access to a homicide unit, and this electrifying book tells the true story of a year on the violent streets of an American city. The narrative follows Donald Worden, a veteran investigator; Harry Edgerton, a black detective in a mostly white unit; and Tom Pellegrini, an earnest rookie who takes on the year's most difficult case, the brutal rape and murder of an eleven-year-old girl.

Originally published fifteen years ago, Homicide became the basis for the acclaimed television show of the same name. This new edition--which includes a new introduction, an afterword, and photographs--revives this classic, riveting tale about the men who work on the dark side of the American experience.

646 pages, Paperback

First published June 1, 1991

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About the author

David Simon

111 books519 followers
David Simon is a journalist and writer best known for his nonfiction book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and its television dramatization Homicide: Life on the Street, which David Simon also produced and wrote for.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,203 reviews
Profile Image for Matt.
908 reviews28.1k followers
April 27, 2016
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most of us don’t know much about the Street. Not streets, in general, but the Street, proper noun. I make that assumption based on the fact that I’m writing this and you’re reading this on Goodreads, which is just about as far from the Street as you can possibly get.

I was born in the mostly-white suburb of Bloomington, Minnesota. I lived across the street from a park, where people ice-skated in winter and played little league during the summer. If a cop came into my neighborhood, it was because our night games – capture the flag, ghosts and goblins – were disturbing the sleep of our neighbors. I went to a private school, along with all my friends. We all had stable families until our parents divorced, right on cue, as we entered college (and we all entered college). Such is the suburban life I led.

The Street is different, as night is different from day, and as a punch in the groin is different from a bite of cake. I make no claims to any knowledge of the Street. Whatever faint knowledge I pretend to have comes from the bits and pieces gleaned from my clients in the public defenders’ office.

It’s a place without young men and fathers, who are in jail, or absconded, or dead. As a result, there is no such thing as a regular peer group. Twelve year-olds hang out with nineteen year-olds, with predictable results. It’s a place where the commercial markets to which we’ve grown accustomed do not exist. There aren’t supermarkets, so if you want to go shopping, you better have a car or be willing to take the bus. If you want to shop local, the goods you purchase, from a store with iron gates over the windows, and the clerk behind bulletproof glass, you will – oddly, since this is an impoverished place – pay more than you would elsewhere. There aren’t banks, so if you’re lucky enough to get a paycheck, you have to go to EZ Check or Payday Express, where you lose up to 20% of that money. Since the normal cabs won’t come to this place, there are jitneys – unlicensed taxis – to ferry you from place to place. The jobs that exist here are service oriented and strictly local: hair stylists, child care, lawn care. Based on our whacky drug laws, the sharpest capitalists get into drugs, where you can make more in a couple hours than you could in a month.

So, that’s the Street. And no Street compared to Baltimore in the 1980s where, in some years, there was almost a murder a day. That’s where David Simon’s classic, gripping, surprisingly powerful piece of journalism, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, takes place.

Homicide belongs to that narrow genre of “year in the life of __" journalism, of which I am a devotee. I’ve read books about a year in the life of a firehouse, and a courthouse, and a public defenders office. Though I keep reading them, I’m always a little disappointed. The reason, I think, is that the main story – the events taking place during that particular year – often aren’t interesting enough to support a narrative; thus, you get a lot of filler (historical context, biographies, etc.)

Unfortunately for the dead souls in Homicide, David Simon never came across that problem. There are enough murders to support a television show for seven seasons. A new case is breaking every other day, so that the detectives that Simon follows – the focus is on a single shift comprised of three squads – are always busy.

The big case of the year is the rape and murder of a young girl, who’s eviscerated body is found dumped in an alley. In the afterword, Simon calls this case the “spine” of the book. I hate to disagree with the author, since he wrote this and all, but no single murder, not even one as horrible as the dead of a child, stands out. Indeed, they all start to blur together, which is sort of the point.

In my opinion, the true framework of the book is a list of “rules” for a homicide detective (Rule One: “Everyone lies”). These rules are a jumping-off point for various discussions on topics such as Miranda warnings, probable cause, autopsies, and justifiable force. Simon deftly blends theses discussions into the narrative, so that things that would feel like digressions or filler in other books instead seamlessly becomes part of the story. For instance, here’s Simon’s inimitable way of explaining Miranda’s Fifth Amendment protections:

The detective offers a cigarette, not your brand, and begins an uninterrupted monologue that wanders back and forth for a half hour more, eventually coming to rest in a familiar place: You have the absolute right to remain silent. Of course you do. You’re a criminal. Criminals always have the right to remain silent. At least once in your miserable life, you spent an hour in front of a television set, listening to this book-‘em-Danno routine. You think Joe Friday was lying to you? You think Kojak was making this horsesh*t u? No way, bunk, we’re talking sacred freedoms here, notably your Fifth Fu**ing Amendment protection against self-incrimination, and hey, it was good enough for Ollie North, so who are you to go incriminating yourself at the first opportunity? Get it straight: A police detective, a man who gets paid government money to put you in prison, is explaining your absolute right to shut up before you say something stupid.

Homicide begins with a murder on January 19, and ends with a murder in December. In between, there are shootings, stabbings, beatings and suicides. Some get bludgeoned, others strangled. Every once in awhile there’s even a natural death (these still has to be investigated by the homicide squad if it appears suspicious). It’s a catalogue of darkness and evil, and for the first hundred pages or so, I found the book almost unbearably suffocating. It’s like the movie Se7en, all darkness and rain and inhumanity, but without the ability to get lost in Brad Pitt’s eyes. All the detectives tend to blur together; they all talk tough, with a certain coarse indifference that is a shield against the grim realities of their calling. The victims are dehumanized and, just as important, so are the detectives. It doesn’t help that so many of the detectives have similar names: at the start, it’s tough to separate your Worden from your Waltemeyer, or tell McLarney from McAllister. And good luck differentiating Edward Brown from David Brown. They all seem as one: hard, unfeeling, tough, and eloquently blasphemous.

Over time, and 500 more pages, that starts to change. Despite the fact that you almost never learn about these men’s personal lives, and never follow them home (though you follow them to many, many bars), all nineteen of the detectives in Lieutenant Gary D’Addario’s shift become sharply-etched individuals. You get to understand their strengths, their weaknesses; their talents and their shortcomings; how they investigate crimes and how they interact with their colleagues. Homicide subtly gains power as it moves forward, so that by the time the final page comes, and you have to leave these detectives behind, you’re grateful that your edition of the book comes with Simon’s 2006 afterword, so you can find out what has happened to these men in the decades following publication.

Simon is best known for HBO’s The Wire. As such, it was no surprise that Homicide wonderfully catches the hilariously profane, idiomatic, and often surprisingly evocative dialogue heard on the Street. But Homicide is much more than premium-cable-ready one-liners. It is a work of reporting so impossibly detailed that it boggles my mind how Simon was ever able to compile this information, and then shape it into a coherent work.

At six hundred pages, Homicide qualifies as an epic of the Street. Simon takes you, as expected, to dozens of murder scenes, in a variety of alleys, tenements, and curbsides. He also provides a retrospectively-nostalgic glimpse into an 80’s-era precinct house, complete with b&w analogue television sets, typewriters, and cops who weren’t afraid to have a beer on the job. Beyond that, Simon leads you – Virgil-like – into the autopsy room, and the prosecutor’s office, and, in a great set-piece, through the trial of an alleged cop-shooter.

This is a masterpiece. Simple as that. It resonates. It gets beneath your skin. It takes you someplace you’ve probably never been, and you start to get that vicarious thrill until you realize, as hard as it is, that this is a real place, and not a nightmare conjured from a dark imagination.

A couple parting thoughts:

First, Homicide was written during the advent of DNA analysis. If you believe Simon, in the afterword, police work hasn’t changed much in the years since publication. He writes that cops still rely on their gut instincts, their intuition, and their tried-and-true interrogation techniques. I have a hard time believing that. Not the part about the DNA, necessarily, but certainly the enhanced interrogation techniques practiced by Baltimore’s finest. Some of the stunts these detectives pulled come straight out of LA Confidential. Nowadays, most police forces, as a matter of practice, record all interrogations on video (I know, at least, that this is the practice of our police department, and we’re not exactly on the leading edge of things). Any defense attorney who saw a recording of one of these interrogations would have a hard time believing he or she wasn’t in heaven. It’s not just that the things these guys were doing were unconstitutional, it’s that they were so unconstitutional as to defy belief.

Secondly, the streets of Baltimore are an alien world to most readers of Homicide. Simon makes it all the more alien by telling his story entirely from the point of view of the mostly-white detectives who enter and exit this mostly-black enclave. While we eventually learn a great deal about these detectives, we never learn anything about the victims, or the people who populate these mean streets. The effect is to humanize the cops while turning the victims and the criminals into animals.

This isn’t a criticism so much as it is an observation. Indeed, Simon switched points of view in his follow-up, The Corner. Yet it’s worth bearing this one-sidedness in mind while reading Homicide. It is so relentless, so committed to its story, that you start to lose the larger context of failed drug laws, failed schools, poverty, and the legacy of racism that has created these streets. You also forget that when you close the book, finally able to escape, that the streets do not disappear. They are still out there, whether we are thinking about them or not.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 2 books569 followers
April 6, 2012
*this contains Wire spoilers, but not Homicide spoilers.*

“The Wire” is over. “The Wire,” which salvaged so many depressing Sunday nights. “The Wire,” which was the only reason we subscribed to HBO. “The Wire,” one of the few television dramas where I’ve repeatedly found myself thinking of all the characters and their situations as real.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels the same way. Fictional or not, Omar got obituaries in publications across the country when his character died a few weeks ago. Whole NFL teams gather together to watch. And even Barack Obama has mentioned his love for the show on the road several times. What do we do now that it’s over?

I have at least a temporary solution. A few weeks ago, Ben bought Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon, one of the two creators of the show and a former Baltimore Sun journalist. The non-fiction book follows 30 or so Baltimore detectives through a year of cases - starting on New Year’s day in 1988 and ending on New Year’s Eve 1988. When Ben started reading it, it did nothing less than take over his life, and when I started reading it the day he finished it, it took over mine. In the good way.

Reading Homicide is like reading the true story behind the myth of “The Wire.” You meet the real characters who where mixed up and re-pieced together to create Bunk, McNulty, Lester, and Keema. More than that, it offers a back-stage pass into the details of detective work that are only glimpsed during the show - whole chapters are devoted to what it’s like to work in the city morgue and what it’s like for a detective to testify in court. Vocabulary words from “The Wire” that you always wondered about like a “yo” and a “redball” are finally clearly defined.

In short, Homicide makes me better understand why we loved “The Wire” so much: it is truthful and (as much as a television drama can be) it is real. No wonder that the world has taken Omar’s death as if it he once actually lived. No wonder it was heartbreaking to know that Bubbles makes it but Dookie doesn’t.

There weren’t any fireworks at the end of Homicide - some of the biggest murder cases of the year are never solved and none of the hardworking detectives are recognized or even given enough overtime. There also weren’t any big fireworks at the end of “The Wire” - and Homicide helped me understand that that’s how it should be.

So if your schedule is still empty on Sunday nights, or if you start missing the late-night antics of detectives waiting for the phone to ring, don’t worry: there’s still Homicide, and it’s a solid 650 pages long.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,530 reviews794 followers
January 10, 2021
If you've watched The Wire you probably don't need to read this book, but if you haven't (or really enjoyed Homicide or The Wire) this is a great introduction to one of the best police procedural dramas ever produced. The TV show and book based on Simon spending a year with the Baltimore Homicide squad, the murders, the cases, the night shifts, the ups, the downs, the system, the courts, the public, the innocent, the guilty, and most of all the relationships between that mostly male network of REAL POLICE... a solid 7 out of 12 from me :)
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,535 reviews1,794 followers
February 20, 2017
An obsession of the narrator in When we were Orphans is that there is a cause to the crime that he sees. As a famous private Detective (at least in his own mind) he sees himself as sitting across a chessboard, grandmaster against grandmaster in a battle of wills. Good eventually triumphing over evil.

That attractive notion that evil acts, although a disruption in orderly and peaceful lives, are meaningful - the product of an evil will keeps us watching crime stories on TV and reading detection stories. The order of the universe has been broken but through sheer brainpower the hero will identify and remove the wrong doer and make the world safe is a very satisfying and reassuring story. Perhaps this is why conspiracy theories are popular - they allege that there is meaning in the rush of the world's events that is explicable to the true initiate.

This book is an antidote to all that. Not all cases are solved. Not all cases that are solved make it to court. Not all cases taken to court result in a conviction. No one cares about the motive, accept perhaps the jury, who know the motive is important from watching Detective dramas on TV. And above all most of the crimes are stupid. There are no Napoleons of crime here. Instead murders committed in a moment of anger, or for a handful of money, or a couple of days worth of drugs. When it comes to solving cases it is luck and good fortune that rule. Hard work is good, but luck is better.

David Simon spent a year in the late 1980s with the Baltimore police department homicide squad and this book is the resulting reportage. Simple day to day police work, office and job situational humour (and since this is about a Homicide department you need a fairly dire sense of humour to enjoy this, the woman with two husbands in the same house each of whom thinks the other is just the lodger is perhaps the politest example), successes and failures come intermixed. It is an episodic book. We experience the cases as they occur, not in neat coherent packages. This makes it easy to pick up and put down or to reread sections as you please.

Slowly Simon introduces some general passages, on the development of the Baltimore Police Force from its origins as being simply the best armed gang on the street to its state in the 1980s, the over worked court system - reliant on plea bargaining to keep going, coping with disinterested jurors and the politics of the system.

The police and courts as a system was also one of the themes of The Wire and what Simon shows us in this book is a snapshot of a system formed and functional in some earlier time but which can't realistically cope with the number and type of murders that were occurring in Baltimore during the 1980s. This was largely a result of the number of drug related crimes whether execution style killings with minimal if any evidence at the crime scene or street corner killings. The detectives were bludgeoned with so many cases and left working as individuals rather than in teams that dealing with complex cases let alone systemic issues risked derailing the work of the department as a whole, geared as it was to attempting to clear over half the homicides committed during the year to maintain an acceptable position in the national league tables. This naturally was a political nonsense and one familiar I assume to many Goodreaders working in semi-bureaucratic jobs with demi-politicised objectives that are public footballs, but careers have been built out of worse.

Coming to this after "The Wire" you'll recognise his some of his source material (more can be found in The Corner), in characters, situations, anecdotes and some major themes - the reactive nature of the homicide set up means that they are struggling to cope with an increasing number of homicides and the joy of statistics. But this is an entirely free-standing book, full of insight into a team of people struggling to cope with crimes of a scale and type that they aren't geared up to deal with.

"So why did you marry her?" Childs asked him.
"I had to," he explains. "She put a voodoo curse on me and I had to do what she said."
"How did she do that?"
Baines recalled that his aunt had cooked him a meal using her own menstrual discharge and watched as he ate. Afterward, she told him what she had done and explained that she now had power over him.
Childs and Waltemeyer exchange glances.

I wonder if that would have made Miss Marple drop a stitch? If the fictional detective from the nineteenth century onwards became a way of exploring society through a formulaic and easily consumed fiction then Simon is flipping that round to show how factual police work shows a society obsessed with the presentation of a positive message that has no possible reality to reality and in which the workers running on this particularly hamster wheel protect themselves only through black humour, failure to do so adequately results in alcoholism and/or suicide.
Profile Image for Brandon.
896 reviews234 followers
July 6, 2022
In 1988, David Simon lingered like a ghost in the hallways of the Baltimore PD, immersing himself into the homicide department of one of America’s most violent cities. He rode in the backseats of department-issued Chevy Cavaliers and stood on the sidelines while detectives deconstructed grotesque crime scenes and inspected bodies still cooling on couches, in alleyways and on street corners.

Throughout my experience reading Simon’s true crime tour-de-force, I found myself constantly asking – how do you keep going? How do they keep pushing through when faced with a never-ending onslaught of murder after murder? With a board showing cases cleared in black and open investigations in red, how do you keep your head screwed on with so little black in the face of an overwhelming amount of red? The answer other than a healthy dose of gallows humor? The hell if I know. These guys weather shit storms the likes of which you and I can’t even imagine. I suppose they just.. endure. They endure because it’s all they know how to do. The job consumes them and as Simon writes, you’re not considered part of the team unless you’ve had at least two divorces or a broken family at home.

The madness the Homicide unit is forced to put up with is downright unbelievable. A man beaten to death while he defecates in an alley for no apparent reason. Or how about a Black Widow case (a woman who marries multiple men, takes out life insurance policies and then murders them to collect on the double indemnity settlement) where the woman in question forces her nephew to marry her after placing a voodoo curse on him? Not insane enough? How about a murder over a fifteen cent Popsicle. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor on multiple occasions. I’m not even scratching the surface here.

Simon indicated in the afterword that he took great care in trying to accurately capture all of the dialogue contained in Homicide. In fact, he thinks about 90% of what he’s written is correct, which is pretty damn impressive considering the book’s length and attention to detail. The narrative style – both in prose and pacing – cements exactly why Simon is so well respected in the world of both fiction and nonfiction crime writing. I read this in huge chunks because I simply couldn’t put it down. It made me really look forward to checking out the Homicide TV series as well as what is considered his crowning achievement, The Wire.

Homicide is a brilliant, brutal piece of journalism that should be considered required reading for any fan of crime fiction. If you love your noir, you need to check out this Edgar Award winning masterpiece.
Profile Image for Mikey B..
974 reviews357 followers
April 22, 2020
One becomes totally immersed in this true-life account in which journalist David Simon spends one year (1988) with homicide detectives in Baltimore.

It is written from the point of view of the grueling jobs of these detectives. David Simon immortalizes these men (in this case they are all men) from now over thirty years ago. In this book we experience their highs and lows plus the very hard work they do – and how it overwhelms them and the toll it takes. Nobody in this job can demarcate between work and non-work. What they see and do lingers and festers constantly, even in their dreams.

It is told from the point of view of the detectives – don’t look to this book for a sympathetic portrait of the criminals under investigation or of corruption within the police department. And the criminals in this book are a varied lot – from drug dealers to life insurance scammers to senseless child killers. There is only one section of the book on when a case is brought to trial. We are taken into the streets and homes of Baltimore where the crimes take place.

This is classic crime book exquisitely and thoughtfully written (but long at 600 pages). It is right up there with, but distinct, from “In Cold Blood”.

Page 428 (my book)

For Pellegrini, the contents of file H88021 had become nothing less than an ever-changing landscape in which every tree, rock and bush seems to be moving. And it was no use explaining to him that this could happen to any detective on any case – this pit-of-the-stomach feeling that everything was being missed, that evidence was disappearing faster than an investigator could perceive it. Every detective in the unit had lived through the sensation of seeing something at a crime scene or during a search warrant and then looking twice to see that it was no longer there. Or maybe it’s still there, but now you’ve lost the ability to see it.

It was the stuff from which the Nightmare was made, the Nightmare being the recurring dream that occasionally ruins the sleep of every good detective. In the throes of the Nightmare, you are moving through the familiar confines of a rowhouse – you’ve got the warrant, perhaps, or maybe its just a plain-view search – and from the corner of your eye you glimpse something. What the hell is it? Something important, you know that. Something you need. A blood spatter. A shell casing. A child’s star-shaped earring. You can’t say for sure, but with every fiber of your being you understand that it’s your case lying there… The Nightmare scares the hell out of young detectives; some of them even live the dream at their first crime scenes, convinced that the entire case is evaporating into ether.

… Pellegrini [showed] the pin earring to the little girl’s mother; she seemed a little surprised the case was still being worked after seven months, but confirmed that the blue earring did not belong to her daughter.
Profile Image for Mariel.
667 reviews1,048 followers
October 2, 2010
I've been rereading David Simon's Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets on and off for a while (the greatest enemy to my reading: video games. Desensitizing me to violence like the grind of dead bodies on the sidewalk chalks every day). I first read it way back when before high school when my mom got me a copy and told me that I had to read it (for someone who doesn't know me at all she got that one right-on). The tv show was my great obsession. I had fansites on actors Andre Braugher (Frank Pembelton) and Clark Johnson (Meldrick), watched it on tape constantly, had debates about who killed Adena Watson (the fact that we never found out is one of the many reasons why 'Homicide' is the greatest). I still remember sitting in Algebra class and going over the episodes in my mind (like hell I was thinking about Algebra). Yeah, obsession. (The Wire would later become my favorite for the same reasons and sucking me into being unable to think of anything else. I wish everything was that good.) 'Homicide' was a great show (until the last seasons but that fault is NBCs). I've read that Homicide is "baby The Wire". I don't think that's an accurate description. You know how lots of people say that The Wire is a slow burn and they don't get hooked until like six episodes in? I never thought that. I loved it immediately (in part because it reminded me of 'Homicide'). Oh right, I was gonna say that The Wire is "the big picture" and Homicide is "hindsight". It's every day grind of life. The Wire is cogs in the machine. Both came out of this book (The Wire is also a baby of Simon's book The Corner with Ed Burns). The slice of life going through the day to day doesn't make any kind of sense or reveal any meaning until much later when experience enables you to trace what stood the test of time (and faulty memories, willfully faulty memories too). I read about the detectives in this book as a teenager and never forgot them.

I'll never be able to remember precisely which interview it was (I've read/watched many) of David Simon's where he criticized his immature (he probably used a different word being a better writer than I) life views at the time of writing 'Homicide'. He said he came to see people like Bubbles from The Wire in the visceral share/live with them after getting to know Gary from the year of living/writing The Corner. I cannot agree that 'Homicide' was limited in view of the families of the murdered victims, focusing instead on the step back perspective of the detectives. In fact, they meet again the grieving mother when doing The Corner, the lady who runs the community center. I had not forgotten her from reading 'Homicide'. Not just the difficulty of confronting that grief. It's complicated, if you've lost someone you can get how that feels but no one can ever get it completely because everyone has different not exactly the same relationships. It's a cliche in fiction to not wanna hear "I know how you feel". It's good enough for me that these guys are there solving the case. (There's the fear of losing someone, too. How can anyone pretend something only touches them? No matter how deeply personal grief is.) Simon depicted what the homicide cops had to do to do their jobs, but like they were not these no man's islands, the grief was beating in the words. Maybe Simon knows better what he felt than I could, but no way do I agree that 'Homicide' is a lesser work than The Wire or The Corner because of its perspective. Like what Jay Landsman (the character on 'The Wire', not the real detective from the book who played a different character on The Wire, and was basis of Munch on 'Homicide') said about McNulty: "If I was laying there dead on some Baltimore street corner, I'd want it to be you standing over me catchin' the case." (The real Landsman is also a character in Michael Chabon's Yiddish Policeman's Society novel. It's no wonder he's inspired writers. Just the bit he does pretending to smoke a drag cracks me the hell up.)

More Homicide confessions while I'm at it: I wore John Munch glasses in high school. (He's also on the Law and Order spin-off. Landsman is taking over the world!)

Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,179 reviews9,243 followers
April 15, 2012
This is probably the best true crime book ever unless you can show me that all that stuff in Dostoyevsky really happened, in which case he's probably got the edge. The story is fairly familiar I think but to summarise - David Simon was a journalist & came up with the idea of spending a year embedded (so we now call it) with the Baltimore Homicide Unit, wrote a series of articles for the Baltimore Sun, they got turned into this book, then two years after that the book became the series Homicide : Life on the Street (I know, crap title), then DS wrote The Corner about the drug trade in Baltimore and that became a mini-series and then he created The Wire and that one everyone knows about. I'll stop there.

So this guy has written the best true crime book and created the best and the third best tv shows of all time (Sopranos being No 2). This guy is an American national treasure. He's also really arrogant as can be read in a very self-regarding introduction to the book of the The Wire ("So then I decided to create a tv show which would forever redefine the way we watch tv").

Homicide the book is really different from Homicide the tv show. Both are complete genius and are hereby UNRESERVEDLY RECOMMENDED TO ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE WHO CAN STILL READ OR ORDER DVDS FROM AMAZON. Both in their own way make you laugh and cry and howl and bark and make hissing sounds and imitate the well known painting The Scream.


Detective John Munch : Our day begins when yours ends.


Detective Steve Crosetti: Either it's murder, or this library has a very strict overdue policy.


Det. Tim Bayliss: Fourteen years old... When I was fourteen, jeez, I was in the ninth grade, and I don't remember much of what I was doing, but I know I was nowhere close to picking up a gun and shooting another kid.
Det. Frank Pembleton: How old should our shooter be?
Det. Tim Bayliss: Not fourteen.
Det. Frank Pembleton: So if he's what, fifteen, sixteen years old, it makes any more sense?
Det. Tim Bayliss: No.
Det. Frank Pembleton: How old should he be then? What's the cut off age? Seventeen? Eighteen?
Det. Tim Bayliss: I don't know, but not fourteen.
Det. Frank Pembleton: When you find out, clue me in, awright? I'd like to know when any of this killing, at any age, from six to sixty, makes any sense. One time I want to hear about a murder that makes sense. Just one time. For any reason.


Det. John Munch: I took the liberty of having my craw removed years ago so that I could sleep at night.


[Bolander sees bird droppings on his car]
Det. Stan Bolander: Would you look at this? Pigeons!
Det. John Munch: Not from a pigeon, it's from a waterfowl.
Det. Stan Bolander: A what?
Det. John Munch: A waterfowl. From a mallard.
Det. Stan Bolander: A duck?
Det. John Munch: A well-fed duck.
Det. Stan Bolander: Right, like you can tell the difference. That couldn't come from a seagull, I suppose?
Det. John Munch: No, gulls have a milky white splurter. Notice the lobular pattern, these splays within splays.
Det. Stan Bolander: Munch... why do you know these things?

Profile Image for Fiona.
1,209 reviews222 followers
January 30, 2021
Everyone lies.
Murderers, stickup artists, rapists, drug dealers, drug users, half of all major-crime witnesses, politicians of all persuasions, used car salesmen, girlfriends, wives, ex-wives, line officers above the rank of lieutenant, sixteen-year-old high school students who accidentally shoot their older brother and then hide the gun - to a homicide detective, the earth spins on an axis of denial in an orbit of deceit. Hell, sometimes the police themselves are no different.

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets is the product of David Simon getting the jump on all those mid-2000's procedurals and spending 1988 following the detectives of the homicide squad in Baltimore. It's comprehensive - this thing is dense! - and manages to really get across the feeling of what it must have been like to be in that room, in that city, in that year - not that I'd know, but it certainly felt it.

Being written in the eighties, there's some allowances to be made - though less than I was prepared for going in, but David Simon hasn't had a lot to regret when it comes to his writing and attitudes, despite having been around more than long enough to have been writing in times where what's now considered offensive would have been less than noteworthy. Some of that may stem from what is pegged as the general homicide attitude that that kind of behaviour is the sort of thing patrol cops engage in.

The majority of this book is the gradual outlining of the Baltimore homicide department, their environment, and the work that they do. To that end it's a gradual shift of focus from one detective to another, to their hierarchy, to the courts, the morgue, and the graveyard. The stories themselves are almost litanies in their similarity as we move along, and being such a large book, it's almost given a sense of the weariness we're told soon starts to accompany the detectives who live this every day. There's no getting around it when writing an account of real life; when fictional authors have the luxury to keep things from being too similar and spicing up the lives of their characters, unfortunately murder in this world does tend to the dull and repetitive. People die for some depressingly minor reasons, people lie, and eventually most perpetrators are caught.

It almost sounds like I didn't enjoy this, but I swear I did. I mentioned earlier I'd have no reason to know if this is as authentic a time capsule as it feels, and that's true - but it does feel like it captured that year for those men, and managed to preserve it in ink. The interest, for me, was in the people, even the awful ones, and for the little moments of humanity between the misery. There's plenty of that, too.
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books333 followers
October 26, 2014

"You gotta let him play....This is America.”

David Simon's now-classic work of police and crime journalism gave birth to two of the finest shows ever to appear on TV: Homicide: Life on the Streets, and The Wire. Both shows are full of episodes and lines that you will recognize if you read this book, particularly the search for the killer of a young girl named Adena Watson, based on the real-life case of Latonya Wallace.

Aside from anecdotes reappearing on great TV shows, though, this book is just one of the best and most clear-eyed looks at American policing you are ever likely to read. Simon was given almost unlimited access, allowed to ride along with the Baltimore Homicide Department for a full year, and write down everything he heard and saw. He portrays the detectives, the city brass, and the criminals in unsparing detail, neither making the cops out to be heroes standing tall to Protect and Serve, nor corrupt and racist bullies (though certainly there are a few cops who fall into both categories), but what they are: working men working a trade, and their trade is murder. Another day, another body falls in Baltimore, and the detectives work the cases because their captains live and die by "clearance" rates; what do the numbers look like? The chapter in which it is explained how police departments jiggle figures to make themselves look better, to boost their "solved" cases or even to use technical loopholes to decide whether or not a killing is a murder, is your first entry into the cynical world of policing, Baltimore style.

1. Everyone lies. Murderers lie because they have to; witnesses and other participants lie because they think they have to; everyone else lies for the sheer joy of it, and to uphold a general principle that under no circumstances do you provide accurate information to a cop.
2. The victim is killed once, but a crime scene can be murdered a thousand times.
3. The initial 10 or 12 hours after a murder are the most critical to the success of an investigation.
4. An innocent man left alone in an interrogation room will remain fully awake, rubbing his eyes, staring at the cubicle walls and scratching himself in dark, forbidden places. A guilty man left alone in an interrogation room goes to sleep.
5. It's good to be good; it's better to be lucky.
6. When a suspect is immediately identified in an assault case, the victim is sure to live. When no suspect has been identified, the victim will surely die.
7. First, they're red. Then they're green. Then they're black. (Referring to the color of an open case on the board, the money that must be spent to investigate the case, and the color of the solved murder as it is listed on the board)
8. In any case where there is no apparent suspect, the crime lab will produce no valuable evidence. In those cases where a suspect has already confessed and been identified by at least two eyewitnesses, the lab will give you print hits, fiber evidence, blood typings and a ballistic match.
9. To a jury, any doubt is reasonable; the better the case, the worse the jury; a good man is hard to find, but 12 of them, gathered together in one place, is a miracle.
10. There is too such a thing as a perfect murder. Always has been, and anyone who tries to prove otherwise merely proves himself naive and romantic, a fool who is ignorant of Rules 1 through 9.

The cops are personalities, and we get to know them — they are all among the elite, because the Homicide department is a meritocracy and those who can't cut the mustard get honorably reassigned to Vice or Property Crimes or somewhere else less demanding. You clear cases or you move on. But they're also blue collar guys, frequently assholes, they have gallows humor, they don't believe anything coming out of anyone's mouth, but every now and then they have a "real victim," which is to say, an innocent citizen of Baltimore who was not a drug dealer or a gang-banger caught on the wrong corner, and then, sometimes, you see that they actually care. They can't allow themselves to care too much, but as when little Latonya Wallace is found raped and gutted in a row-house yard, sometimes they catch a case that isn't just another name in red that they're trying to turn black for the sake of their numbers.

I live near Baltimore, so I am kind of familiar with the area, but I admit I have stayed away from most of the neighborhoods talked about in this book. The drug markets, the projects, the seedy parks, and the mean streets lined with liquor stores, cheap dives, and check-cashing places where much of the largely African-American population lives, are foreign territory to me. They are places where white guys don't go unless they're either buyers or cops. Race is very much present in Baltimore and in David Simon's narrative, though for the most part, the detectives, while sometimes casually racist, treat every victim and every suspect alike. Race figures largely in trials, and in policing, it's an always-present factor.

The year that Simon details in this book was 1988; in the decades since then, the crime rate (and particularly the homicide rate) in Baltimore has fallen quite a lot. But the city has only gotten poorer, so the underlying problems remain. The police department that Simon describes is probably quite different now; not just the technology has changed, but I suspect even in 1988 they were in a state of transition from the old Irish-dominated police department in a city where all neighborhoods were delineated by race, ethnicity, and class to one that's a bit more mixed now.

Following these detectives along as they investigate all sorts of murders is entertaining (in a grim way), educational, and captivating. Simon has a fine journalistic writing style with a wry sense of irony, and every case becomes a little mini-episode, even the simplest and stupidest. And there are a lot of stupid cases. It's sad the dumb reasons people will kill each other, and even sadder just how stupid a lot of criminals are. If you've ever wondered how a police detective gets a suspect to say a damn thing without a lawyer present, then the chapter on how they weasel their way past the reading of rights will strike you as both brilliant and damning, and if nothing else, perhaps you will absorb one crucial lesson: if you are ever charged with a crime, then whether you're innocent or guilty, keep your damn mouth shut, because the police are not your friends.

A fantastic look at the world of policing, in far more detail and gritty verisimilitude than you're going to get from any TV show. Of course this book a little dated now, but even back then, the police were complaining about juries being tainted by ridiculous expectations given to them by crime shows.

Absolutely riveting and informative. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Laurel Krahn.
2 reviews6 followers
May 14, 2012
One of my most prized possessions is my first edition hardcover of this book which is signed by many of the detectives mentioned in it. I also own the first mass market paperback and one of the later trade paperbacks (the one that had a new forward and afterward or something like that). Plus the Kindle eBook. And the audiobook (read by Reed Diamond).

If that first paragraph didn't clue you in, this is one of my favorite books ever. In the newsgroup alt.tv.homicide we just referred to it as The Book as among fans of the TV show Homicide: Life on the Street, that's what it was and is. When the show drifted further away from the realities shown in The Book, it wasn't nearly as good.

David Simon spent a year with a shift of Homicide detectives in Baltimore and wrote about it. Truth can be stranger than fiction, it can also be more entertaining than fiction when a good writer covers it.

As with the TV show, there's dark depressing stuff and then there's the hilarious stuff, usually smack up against each other. That's the stuff I love. I still love that some of the storylines on the show which some thought "too out there" are lifted straight from this work of nonfiction.

If you enjoy dark humor, enjoyed the TV show, enjoyed The Wire, or like true crime you'll probably like this.
Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews871 followers
November 9, 2010
I’ll never be able to read another crime drama without benchmarking it to this one. It was real, after all. Simon was a young crime reporter with the Baltimore Sun when he was given permission to tag along with a squad of homicide detectives for a year. With this book he proved himself to be an avid observer, a great storyteller, and an appreciative audience for the science, language and grit of police work. You can see this as a nonfiction prequel to The Wire.
Profile Image for F.R..
Author 29 books197 followers
September 4, 2010
Believe the hype – this is a truly excellent book! An in-depth examination of one year in the life of the Baltimore Homicide department. Undoubtedly it’s gritty and earthy and contains many gruesome moments, but it’s also a very human book with the key detectives brought to life as the reader is made to understand the bizarre world they inhabit. It’s a place where death is serious but is (nearly always) a joke, where despite these men (and they are pretty much all men) having compassion it’s a dull evening’s shift when somebody isn’t murdered. Okay, some of the prose has clearly been boiled for more than fifteen minutes, but this is an entertaining and thought provoking look at a job and a life which most people only ever get a glimpse of. It’s a large tome that enthralled me so much I raced through it in half a week.

Like most people these days I’ve come to this after watching ‘The Wire’, (which, of course, is an excellent series). As in the TV show, Simon manages to fully evoke the world of the Homicide team, with its jokes and tensions and bigger than life characters. Much like the TV show there are diversions into the areas around the department, such as the morgue and the courts, and Simon expertly conjures those worlds. (In addition Snot Boogie, and other pieces of dialogue, make their first appearances here). And just like ‘The Wire’ it has an ending which suggests that crime and murder in Baltimore is a beast unstoppable and will just keep destroying all in its path.
Profile Image for Toby.
829 reviews328 followers
September 19, 2011
I've just finished this incredible piece of journalism from David Simon. The voice that comes through in his writing feels wonderfully authentic, the people and places and situations so vivid in my mind that I almost came to think of these homicide detectives as friends or people I know.

I was thoroughly entertained throughout, only I was also grateful that I had finally finished it. It's heavy work at times but it rewards you for your perseverance. I look forward to reading The Corner in the future. But in the distant future. Perhaps something a little lighter after this.
Profile Image for Max.
341 reviews301 followers
February 12, 2015
Simon gives us an in-depth look at big city homicide detectives and the way they work. We follow an undermanned and under resourced Baltimore homicide squad facing a constant stream of murders. There are the “dunkers” where the case is readily resolved and the detective quickly clears it. Then there are the “whodunits” where the real detective work comes in. If it catches the public eye, it becomes a “red ball” and every angle is worked as pressure mounts from the higher ups. If there is a “true victim”, an innocent, the detectives take it personally, work hard and stick with it. If they see the victim as a “yo”, druggy or criminal the detectives still work it to clear it if only to improve their record but if it becomes difficult they let it go in favor of other cases.

Every gritty detail is revealed. Securing the crime scene and scanning it with a trained eye for that one piece of evidence that breaks the case; canvassing a neighborhood to find witnesses; convincing a witness to come forward; explaining to a family that their loved one or child is dead; watching the corpse undergo an autopsy at the medical examiner’s office; rereading files again and again to find that missing link; tricking and intimidating a suspect into a confession; persuading a prosecutor that you really have a case; carefully parsing testimony in court to keep from being trapped by the defense attorney. Every angle is covered.

Simon is exceptional in his portrayal of the individual detectives and their interaction. He neither makes them out to be heroes or villains. They are remarkably dedicated despite the politics, bureaucracy, limited resources, low pay and antagonistic community. At the same time they are crude, aberrant personalities prone to heavy bouts of drinking. Amidst the constant mayhem and disruption to their personal lives they maintain camaraderie through a dark cynical sense of humor. It’s easy to see how they become jaded dealing every day with carved up bullet ridden bodies and the most sordid people imaginable. I became jaded just reading about murder after murder, the callousness of the murderers and indifference of the community.

Simon’s inside account is authentic, disturbing and powerful. It reveals a raw ugly slice of America in a way that is thought provoking and still relevant 25 years later. If you imagined that there was anything glamorous about being a detective, this book will surely change your mind.
Profile Image for Brenda.
4,031 reviews2,631 followers
November 5, 2012
The year was 1988, the city was Baltimore, the murder count 234. This was the year David Simon, reporter, requested and received the OK to spend it with the Homicide unit, where he had unlimited access to the myriad of cases, the constant murders, and the band of homicide cops who tried to put the murderers away.

David Simon was on the scene 10 minutes after the call, when Detective Tom Pellegrini, a rookie, took on the vicious rape and murder of 11 year old Latonya Wallace. Pellegrini worked on the case day and night, and this one case was a main thread throughout the book. David also followed Detective Donald Worden, who was a veteran investigator, Detective Harry Edgerton, a black detective in a mostly white unit, Detective Sergeant Terry McLarney, Squad Supervisor, Detective Donald Waltemeyer, and many others throughout this incredibly detailed account of a year in the worst streets possible.

The rowhouses of East and West Baltimore were a seething bed of drugs, prostitution and murder. Twice every three days someone was shot, stabbed or bashed to death. The statistics were staggering, and the success rate of putting murderers behind bars was low.

David Simon writes an incredibly detailed account of everything, from the expressions on the faces of the deceased victims, to the bawdy jokes told amongst the squad. The exhaustion, lack of food and sleep while trying to break a case…he has done it all, and extremely well.

I had this book recommended to me, and I will pass the recommendation on…definitely worth a read.
Profile Image for Issa.
46 reviews5 followers
February 19, 2016
Frigging awesome book about a year following homicide detectives in Baltimore one of America toughest cities. Simon later became more famous for creating the tv shows the Wire and Treme and Homicide: life on the streets. Want to know how life is for a homicide detective? Read this book
Profile Image for Reece Hirsch.
Author 6 books580 followers
November 19, 2019
Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets is an absolute, stone-cold true-crime classic, and the best book about police work that I've read. I was surprised to discover how much Simon's all-time-great TV series The Wire draws upon the material in this book.
Profile Image for HR-ML.
1,065 reviews39 followers
August 20, 2022
Kindle edition. I got to less than 50% on this gritty book.
May go back to it? Read further & stopped at 68%.

David Simon (hereafter Simon) worked as a crime journalist.
Simon covered Baltimore homicide detectives from 1988
forward. Baltimore had 240 murders that yr. Each detective
handled 9-10 homicides a year as primary investigator and
6 as secondary. (4% mark). Simon eventually served as a
writer + producer on TV's Homicide: Life on the Streets
(based on this book), The Wire +The Deuce.

Did Simon share his own opinions or echo those expressed
by Baltimore homicide detectives? Baltimore was described
as "uneducated"+ nearly all criminals. "(Sgt) McLarney
was a good man in a city besieged by bad men (22% mark)."

The Baltimore homicide detectives, Sgts and Lts referred to
a huge board with the homicide victim's name in black for a
closed case and red for an open case.

Other investigations not included on the board- serious
shootings/ stabbings/ bludgeonings, "any questionable
or suspicious death not readily explained by a victim's
age or medical condition IE overdoses, seizures, suicides,
accidental falls, drownings, crib deaths, & autoerotic
strangulations. (4% mark)."

Baltimore's homicide unit referred to "whodunits" (real
mysteries) & "dunkers" (cases accompanied by ample
evidence and an obvious suspect). (7% mark). High profile
cases attracting attn of police brass +/or the Mayor were
"red ball" cases. (4-7% mark) One case involved an 11 yr
old girl molested & eviscerated and murdered. Detectives
spent 16-20 hour shifts on this one.

*********** Revised on 12/25/2021. **************
I resumed reading until I stopped at the 68% mark. This
was engrossing and gross. It adversely affected my sleep
2 nights in a row, then I decided no more.

The author reviewed the steps of an autopsy. He spoke of
South Baltimore's "Billyland" who were descendants of
West Virginia & Virginia coal miners. And "The code of
the street- the ghetto rule that says a man never talks to
the police under any conceivable circumstances- just
doesn't mean as much in Billyland." (64% mark).

A funny but sad (& crazy?) perp was a lady storefront
preacher. She had 40+ life insurance policies on spouses,
nieces, nephews etc. She hired a hit man to kill select people.
She had 3 first degree murder charges (3 spouses) + 3
attempted murder charges. She argued w/ detectives that
she pulled no triggers. She acted like she misunderstood
insurance fraud.

Much of homicide seemed to involve jealousy, greed, money
or drugs. Or a perp 'under the influence.'
Profile Image for J.M. Hushour.
Author 6 books196 followers
November 6, 2019
"A good investigator, leaning over a fresh obscenity, doesn't waste time and effort battering himself with theological questions about the nature of evil and man's inhumanity to man. He wonders instead whether the jagged wound pattern is the result of a serrated blade, or whether the discoloration on the underside of the leg is indeed an indication of lividity."

There was never any way that this was going to be anything other than great. Simon, creator of the best television show ever (The Wire, in case you're an ignoramus), spent 1988 following the detectives of the Baltimore homicide department. This is probably the best book you're ever going to read as far as getting an insight into the Sisyphean world of policework. It's also the best way to understand the crumbling institutions of contemporary America, from the streets and the cops. It is enlightening, frustrating, funny, outright disturbing, and then somehow even funnier despite that, Simon gives us a frank glimpse at the detectives, their work, their victims, and the city they all live in. Nothing is romanticized or glorified, this is the real shit as it is, including the shady political dealings with cases, unsolved cases, unclear cases, and even courtroom shenanigans.
Profile Image for Christine.
6,551 reviews473 followers
August 9, 2010
Updated Review:

I re-read this because I am going to teach it this fall. In a book about how homicides are investigated, Simon looks at race, class, politics, police, residents, drugs, sexism, racism, and any another ism. There is plently in this book to chew over.

Older Review
I finally read this. I loved the NBC series based on this book. Honestly, if you are debating reading this book, read it. Simon is fair, and his writing is compelling. You get a real sense of people he writes about as well as the department as a whole. If you watched the series, you will be amazed about how much was used from the book in developing plot lines. It is a book that I will think about using in class.

Profile Image for Ed.
Author 39 books2,691 followers
November 20, 2008
Three cheers...I finished David Simon's HOMICIDE last night. Elated I did, too. It's a honker (600+ pages). The storyline tracks a Homicide squad in the Baltimore PD over a year (234 murders in '88). Two main things held my interest. First, I liked the parts on the individual homicide detectives. Their personalities are memorable. Second, I enjoyed the police procedural (CSI) stuff. HOMICIDE is well-written and fast-paced. As expected, lots of male banter (colorful usage of the F-word). It's usually a thankless job, but they excel at it, day in and day out. Winner of Edgar and Anthony Awards. Richard Price (author of CLOCKERS I read over a summer) contributes a front piece.
Profile Image for Nancy Regan.
38 reviews43 followers
April 3, 2017
644 pages later, I didn't want this to end. Fiction writers, unencumbered by journalistic ethics, can only dream about creating something this compelling and moving. In case there are a few other fans out there who didn't know that Homicide: Life on the Street was based on a nonfiction book, I am noting it here so that you can discover the original Frank Pembleton, John Munch and Al Giardello yourselves. The research was done in 1988, but the action doesn't seem dated. DNA analysis and cell phones came later, but I'm betting good detective work has never been better.
Profile Image for Repix.
2,157 reviews394 followers
August 22, 2017
Relato periodístico en clave narrativa de una unidad de homicidios en Baltimore y durante un año. Nada que ver con lo que sale en pelis y series. Aquí, solo realidad. Cómo funciona todo el sistema, desde el judicial hasta el forense. Crímenes auténticos, sin fuegos artificiales. Inspectores de homicidios que son solo seres humanos.
No sé cómo he tardado tanto en descubrirlo. Es una puñetera maravilla. :D
9 reviews1 follower
August 14, 2018
An excellent view of the Baltimore PD Homicide Unit in the late 80s. The research that led to this book also led to the shows Homicide: Life on the Streets (NBC) & The Wire (HBO)
Profile Image for Jonny.
125 reviews65 followers
December 20, 2018
A quite remarkable tour de force - the story of a Baltimore Police Department homicide squad through 1988, with the highs and lows, triumphs and tragedies and everything in between chronicled with total honesty.
The writing is totally compelling, whether you're laughing along at an off colour joke, gritting your teeth at some awful crime scene or its effects on the victims families or simply getting that warm glow from some squad room banter. It gave me a real insight into the realities of U.S. law enforcement, and though I've never seen any of Simon's dramas, it did bring back some strong memories of the Queensryche song "Empire" - especially the spoken sequence detailing how poorly financed American law enforcement was - but how richly staffed.
Profile Image for Furnison.
298 reviews16 followers
February 21, 2022
Excellent true crime writing. Even though it's about 30 years old and some things have changed, the basics are probably similar. Unlike most current authors, Mr. Simon reports the facts and thoughts of the police without interjecting his own opinions. Parts are not entirely PC and would probably be self-censored if written now. Refreshing.
Profile Image for Aaron Arnold.
428 reviews130 followers
July 7, 2013
This was the book that launched David Simon on his career, and it's just as good as you could ask it to be - dense, detailed, sympathetic, analytical, perceptive, and deeply immersing to the point where I read all 600+ pages of the extended edition in 3 days. While I'm a huge fan of The Wire, Generation Kill, and Treme, I've never seen the acclaimed show this work spawned, although I'll probably have to eventually since this book is truly excellent. It's exactly what the subtitle promises: the true story of the year Simon spent embedded in the Baltimore Police Department's Homicide Division alongside a score of detectives doing what they can to investigate and solve the unending torrent of murder cases thrown their way by the good people of Baltimore.

The detectives are the heroes of the story, although they would probably be uncomfortable with the H-word. They're shown as a jaded, foul, exhausted, cantankerous, cynical lot whose chief respite from the grueling toil of police work is the type of black humor that could be called "gallows humor", except that the parade of criminals they're trying to get prosecuted don't end up on Death Row near often enough for their tastes. Simon is able to make each detective's personality vivid and present on the page, explaining the man's role in the ensemble of his department while also shedding light on what makes an otherwise intelligent person spend their life chasing what seems like an infinite carousel of depression and misery. Simon obviously cared deeply about these guys doing jobs that were basically guaranteed to destroy their marriages and leave them feeling like the cog in a vast and impersonal machine.

But the stories of the detectives are the melody, and the cases they chase are the true rhythm. Simon makes these real-life cases, which in the hands of a lesser writer might have felt like mere scene-setting, just as compelling and heartbreaking to the reader as they must have been to their loved ones, while also showing how the detectives' practiced emotional distance from these cases is essential for their ability to function. He's also upfront and honest about the fact that many of these cases, including some of the worst, don't have neat or happy endings; that same sense of realism obviously informed his later work on The Wire. Indeed, there are many easter eggs for Wire viewers, like the famous Snot Boogie story, plus names like Sydnor and Mouzone that got reappropriated as part of his general "stealing life" philosophy.

In between the men and their cases are some of his trademark rants/analyses of various aspects of America and its relationship to its crimes. There's one section in particular that struck me, about the debilitating effects of slick TV dramas on juries - citizens called to serve have gotten so used to the telegenic formula of conscience-stricken criminals, omnipresent witnesses, dramatic confessions, and smoking guns that it's become noticeably harder to get juries to follow the subtler and more complicated chains of logic that occur in real courtrooms to real-life guilty men they should be convicting. I can't help but remember scenes from The Wire like Clay Davis' acquittal and wonder if at least some of the motivation behind his creative work is an effort to present a more realistic depiction of life to TV viewers as a sort of antidote.

I can't help but feel like The Corner, his second book, hit me slightly harder, that's surely no slight to the man. This will always remain one of the greatest depictions of police work ever written, and for the fan of The Wire who's digging into the back catalog, this particular item is well worth it.
Profile Image for Dan.
1,077 reviews52 followers
January 27, 2018
Wow. Homicide was written thirty years ago and is perhaps the best non-fiction crime genre book that I have read. I’m making a spot for the author Simon next to Capote and Bugliosi.

In 1988 Simon, a Baltimore Sun journalist, was given unfettered access to the Baltimore PD’s homicide group. The book spans the entire year in which over 200 homicides were investigated. Two dozen crimes (not all homicides) were covered in some depth. However it is three different child homicide cases and the case of the Voodoo woman, a serial killer dubbed the Black Widow, that are covered in vivid detail.

The writing is tight, fast paced and seldom wanders off on tangents. I am struck at how the author could write about crime after crime and keep every story fresh. There are quite a few threads to keep track of however but the child murders are the focus. There is a fair amount of character development with the detectives that makes the read even more enjoyable.

This book is hardly police puffery but I finished it feeling a great deal of gratitude towards law enforcement. The homicide case closure rate was 75% in Baltimore with about 50% of the murderers either convicted or sent to mental institutions. This is a rate that was right around the national average. When you read about the efforts involved to get a single conviction, it’s easy to envision how quickly the city could plunge into lawlessness without experienced resources.

They say this book inspired the Wire. I guess I have a new series to binge watch.

Thanks to Goodreads friends for the recommendation, I would have never read it otherwise.
Profile Image for Zella Kate.
279 reviews21 followers
April 24, 2022
Last year, I finally got around to watching The Wire fifteen years after everyone else, and as usually happens with my delayed pop culture experiences, I absolutely loved it. In the middle of my second time through the show, I decided to read the book that inspired the show (Homicide) about thirty years after everyone else, and as usually happens, I absolutely loved it.

This is not an easy read--some of the violent crimes against children that are described are absolutely heartbreaking--but it's easily the most realistic glimpse I've ever seen of the inner workings of a police department. Journalist David Simon rode along with Baltimore's homicide division for a full year (1988), and that deep dive rewards the reader with a complicated inside glimpse of what really goes down at crime scenes and in the squad rooms between murders.

It's not always a flattering depiction. Simon is pretty forthcoming about issues the police department has with brutality, racism, and corruption, as well as the squabbles within the homicide squads he follows. I was particularly fascinated by all the bizarre petty turf wars, of who hated who and who pretended to hate who. It's like high school but one full of cynical middle-aged men.

But it's also not entirely unflattering. Some of the police work displayed is inspired, and even some of the cases that remain unsolved aren't for a lack of effort.

It's also weirdly funny, though in a very morbid way. My personal favorite anecdotes being the guy who gets caught trying to frame another suspect inside police headquarters by stuffing money from a robbery gone wrong in the other guy's coat and the guy whose response to finding out a body had been found in his home was so theatrical that the cops have to politely excuse themselves so they can go outside and laugh before reentering the room to press the suspect about his involvement.
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