I’ve been blocking on writing this review for sometime now because, honestly, I’m not sure how to do justice to such an epic and in-depth work of journalism.
Most people know David Simon as the creator of the epic HBO series, The Wire. And rightly so as The Wire stands as one of the best TV series of all time. Some people know that, prior to creating The Wire, Simon was responsible for the influential NBC police procedural, Homicide: Life on The Streets. Both shows draw heavily from Simon’s research for this book.
After four years as a reporter for The Baltimore Sun covering the police beat, Simon took a year off and was given unlimited access to the city’s homicide division. He spent that time shadowing a shift of detectives and this book details that year in incredible detail, almost case by case. (For those who think I’ve been artificially inflating my numbers by reading short books in my quest for 52 books in 52 weeks, I hold up Homicide which clocks in at almost 700 dense pages and took nearly a month to complete.)
The result of Simon’s incredibly detailed approach will come as no surprise to fans of his TV work. The picture he draws of life in the homicide unit of a major metropolitan city is unromantic, complex and loaded with nuance. Simon’s account is sympathetic to the detectives it depicts, but it does not mythologize them. These are portraits of real people and this same courtesy is extended to the perpetrators, victims and their families. We should expect nothing less from journalism but I think it’s rare to find a journalist who can embed themselves so deeply into a given topic and still not lose sight of the forest for the trees.
Homicide is also an endlessly fascinating window into police procedures and culture. Murder is a grim business but investigating murder is a job and this book really gives you a sense of what that job entails. The experience is so immersive that, by the end, I found myself dreaming about homicides. This dreams were not grisly night terrors, however, rather they were work related dreams! “Great — I’ve got three more stone who-dunnits and look at the state of this crime scene. Whose fucking footprints are these all over my crime scene and did anybody bother to get witness statements?”
This is obviously not a book for everyone but, if you’re a fan of David Simon’s work on TV, an if you’re looking for an antidote to the ubiquitous absurdly silly police procedural dramas that dominate prime time network TV these days, I highly recommend this exceptional book.