Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets - David Simon"When Cain threw a cap into Abel, you don't think the big guy told a couple of fresh uniforms to go down and work up the prosecution report. Hell no, he sent for a fucking detective. And it will always be that way, because the homicide unit of any urban police force has for generations been the habitat of that rarified of species, the thinking cop."
The title of the book has the ring of one of those violent playstation games that are all the rage with young set. But this is factual and one of those great reads that shows fact to be just as bizzare and savage as fiction. I read David Simons second book The Corner a couple of years ago and was more than impressed with his journalistic attention to detail and the epic subject matter that he tackled regarding the degeneration of some American cities and communities. In this, his first book, he takes us through a year he spent as an in-house crime reporter with the Western Division of the Baltimore Police Departments Homicde Unit.
As with The Corner, Simon is in the thick of it and not writing from second hand accounts. He attends murder scenes, witness interviews, autopsies, trials, suspect arrests and the interviews that follow those arrests. He also shares the sixth floor office of the 'Western' homicide boys and gives the reader a great insight into the minutiae and slogging grind of being a murder detective in a very violent city. With this line of work the detectives have a code, camaraderie, and gallows sense of humour that Simon captures excellently. A testimonial to which can be found in the concluding notes of the book in which Detective Sergeant (and self-confessed gentleman and scholar) Terry McLarney praises Simons account of his year spent at the Western.
I would recommend this book to any fan of The Wire. If you liked the cops in that series you will warm to the detectives from the Western (the character Bunk Moreland is based on one of the detectives in the book). In The Wire Simon depicts the hierachy of Baltimores city government and the 'shit runs downhill' way of budget cuts that strangle important services like a police department and this also features in the book.
A Year on the Killing Streets is an enthralling read that inspires regarding people trying to do a good job in the worst circumstances and also saddens at the terrible waste of life in a city that has lost its way. At six hundred pages its a bit of a brick but I found it such a page truner I zipped through it in no time. I got the Kindle version and I would recommend it for any of you who may be looking for a good poolside read this summer. I'll leave you with a touching example of the way in which these detectives help each other through difficult times and are considerate regarding their colleagues feelings:
"After all, this is the same homicide unit in which the diagnosis of Gene Constantine's diabetes was greeted by a coffee room chalkboard divided by two headings: "Those who give a shit if Constantine dies" and "Those who don't." Sergeant Childs, Lieutenant Stanton, Mother Teresa and Barbara Constantine topped the latter list. The shorter column featured Gene himself, followed by the city employees' credit union"