Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #48: Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon

I have not seen The Wire. Yes, I know--every time I turn around, someone is insisting that I MUST see it, that I would LOVE it and how can I possibly have NOT SEEN THE WIRE BECAUSE IT IS SO AWESOME. Unfortunately, the more people push me, the more I balk. It's just the way I am. However, I am reconsidering my position because David Simon's book Homicide (on which The Wire, as well as the old show Homicide are partially based) was so good I may not be able to resist him.

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets is a non-fiction account of David Simon's time shadowing a shift of Baltimore homicide detectives for the calendar year of 1988. He follows them as they work on cases, process evidence, testify in court rooms, and interact with one another. It's a fascinating study of the way the job of a homicide detective works, and Simon's writing style is totally engrossing. The personalities of the detectives come alive, and as a reader I really cared about each of them. They were all so distinct, but each contributed something different to the squad. The story is not really about the individual cases--some of the biggest of the year go unsolved--but about the men who work them. Simon touches on the politics of the work, noting how the solve rates can be manipulated and how politicians and the upper level brass pressure the men on the street to make things look better than they are. He shows the way the job can be tiring, frustrating, and at times completely futile. Simon has chapters that elaborate on court trials, the medical examiner's office, the beat cops. This is an incredibly detailed and fascinating book.

I recommend this to anyone who is interested in the way a homicide division operates. Although the technology today is light years beyond what was available in 1988, I'm sure that for the most part, the job of an ordinary homicide detective in America probably hasn't changed all that much in the 22 years since this book was written.

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