RARA-AVIS: Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

From: Chris Martin ( cptpipes@hotmail.com)
Date: 01 Jul 2003

I have a fear that raving about David Simon's Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets 'round these parts may be the equivalent of posting that "I recently read this great book you may have heard of called The Long Goodbye." But the RA archives don't have too much on the book, so here goes nothing.

I approached Homicide with a blank slate. The NBC show aired on Friday nights throughout my school years and in those days, I had the good sense to get out of the house on weekends and have probably seen no more than five episodes. I've spent the last five years in DC and have been to Baltimore 50 or so times for baseball games, but I still have nothing more than a tourist's knowledge of the city. I know that Simon wrote another non-fiction book called The Corner, which was adapted for HBO and now works on The Wire for HBO. I've also read that George Pelecanos works on The Wire, which alone makes it worth attention. I'm hoping to catch it on DVD someday. Now back to Homicide.

To research the book, Simon took a year-long leave of absence from the Baltimore Sun newspaper to live with the homicide unit of the BPD. The journalistic, chronological approach makes much of the book read like the best Joseph Wambaugh book you ever read. It's got it all: insider perspective, black humor, suspense, moral outrage, great characters, heartbreaking circumstances. It made me want to re-read all my favorite police procedurals-particularly Clockers, which I stumbled across as a 16-year-old-with the new perspectives provided by Simon's detailed account.

In addition to the chronological account, Simon digresses often and those sections provide riveting reading. Topics include the history and unintended consequences of the Miranda Rights; race relations throughout the BPD's history; a trip through the crime lab and a look into the lives of many of the detectives. Many of these sections read almost as being Delilloesque
(good Delilloesque, not dumb wannabe Delilloesque).

It comes in at just under 600 pages, so reading Homicide takes a bit of stamina, but it is well worth it. Homicide has stayed with me since I finished and will alter how I think about the crime fiction I read from here on out.

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