Sunday, 14 October 2012

BOOK: Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets, David Simon (10/10)

Why did I read it?
In my eyes author David Simon is nothing short of a genius. Creator and head writer of The Wire, co-creator of Treme and producer and writer of Generation Kill, the man is responsible for some fantastic TV. I know of his pre-The Wire shows but have not seen any episodes of Homicide or The Corner so decided this would be a good opportunity to look at some of his work from his previous career as a police reporter. 

What's it all about?
Simon took a year out of his career as a police reporter for The Baltimore Sun to spend 1988 chronicling the day to day activities of the Baltimore Police Department's Homicide Unit. A Year On The Killing Streets is the result of that year and Simon gives a fly on the wall perspective of a year in the life of  a typical Baltimore homicide detective, and it ain't pretty.

Should you read it?
This book is to crime literature what The Wire is to police dramas. A massive dose of honest reality. 1988 was a particularly tough year for the Baltimore homicide unit and as Simon recounts the details of the more prominent cases of the year alongside the working mantra of a homicide detective, its obvious that the CSI portrayal of homicide detectives is completely false. In 1988, DNA samples do not exist, the majority of cases are drug related killings unlikely to have a single willing witness and at one point in the year the clearance rate falls below 40%.

Simon says in the epilogue that very little amendments were made to his final manuscript at the request of the BPD and this shows as murder details, procedures, department politics, names and conversations are recounted honestly. The detectives have largely become immune to the death around them and make jokes of fresh corpses as well as the luck of other detectives in catching a stone cold 'whodunit' over a 'dunker'. The broad range of personalities in the department also help Simon to give a fascinating insight into the workings of an overworked homicide department. The birth of characters used by Simon years later in The Wire is evident, literally in the case of Jay Landsman, as are several conversations and references to special details and wire taps.

A really eye-opening insight into the unglamourous life of a Baltimore homicide detective and the staggering crime levels of late eighties Baltimore. A must for any fan of police TV dramas, in particular The Wire.


  1. A brilliant book. Also a little terrifying given that it is non-fiction.

    I came to it after watching the Homicide, Life on the Streets TV series. It is well worth watching, especially to see some of the detectives or composites of the dectives.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation. I will definitely try and watch this at some point. Same goes for The Corner as well.