In 1988, David Simon lingered like a ghost in the hallways of the Baltimore PD, immersing himself into the homicide department of one of America’s most violent cities. He rode in the backseats of department-issued Chevy Cavaliers and stood on the sidelines while detectives deconstructed grotesque crime scenes and inspected bodies still cooling on couches, in alleyways and on street corners.
Throughout my experience reading Simon’s true crime tour-de-force, I found myself constantly asking – how do you keep going? How do they keep pushing through when faced with a never-ending onslaught of murder after murder? With a board showing cases cleared in black and open investigations in red, how do you keep your head screwed on with so little red in the face of an overwhelming amount of black? The answer other than a healthy dose of gallows humor? The hell if I know. These guys weather shit storms the likes of which you and I can’t even imagine. I suppose they just.. endure. They endure because it’s all they know how to do. The job consumes them and as Simon writes, you’re not considered part of the team unless you’ve had at least two divorces or a broken family at home.
The madness the Homicide unit is forced to put up with is downright unbelievable. A man beaten to death while he defecates in an alley for no apparent reason. Or how about a Black Widow case (a woman who marries multiple men, takes out life insurance policies and then murders them to collect on the double indemnity settlement) where the woman in question forces her nephew to marry her after placing a voodoo curse on him? Not insane enough? How about a murder over a fifteen cent Popsicle. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor on multiple occasions. I’m not even scratching the surface here.
Simon indicated in the afterword that he took great care in trying to accurately capture all of the dialogue contained in Homicide. In fact, he thinks about 90% of what he’s written is correct, which is pretty damn impressive considering the book’s length and attention to detail. The narrative style – both in prose and pacing – cements exactly why Simon is so well respected in the world of both fiction and nonfiction crime writing. I read this in huge chunks because I simply couldn’t put it down. It made me really look forward to checking out the Homicide TV series as well as what is considered his crowning achievement, The Wire.
Homicide is a brilliant, brutal piece of journalism that should be considered required reading for any fan of crime fiction. If you love your noir, you need to check out this Edgar Award winning masterpiece.