Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

homicide-yearHomicide: A Year on the Killing Streets is a 1991 book written by David Simon, whom I hope to god you’re familiar with as the creator of the television series The Wire.

Simon, before officially reaching genius status, was a Baltimore Sun reporter for twelve years. During his time with the Sun, Simon took a year’s absence and convinced the Baltimore police department to allow him to shadow the homicide unit for that year. The result was Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. 

The book was a critical success, winning the Edgar award for “Best Fact Crime book.” The success of the book lead to its being adapted as the NBC television drama Homicide: Life on the Street, on which Simon served as a writer and producer.

The book is incredible for anyone who has even a passing interest in the inner-workings of policing and specifically crime investigation. Simon keeps himself out of the picture, as any good journalist does, and presents the detectives he follows as an ensemble of characters in the story being told.

Homicide expertly demystifies the role of the homicide detective by presenting them in an honest, fully examined way. The detectives in Homicide are real people with feelings, strengths, weaknesses, motivation and personal lives who have to slog through a caseload that never stops.

We have a tendency to look at a murder as a story in itself (and indeed, Simon does a great job of telling the individual story of each of the cases the homicide unit works) but it is in the macro — the big picture — where you realize any one detective can have any number of cases on his plate and each murder is merely a short story in a compilation.

Related Reading: The Wire: Institutions and the Individuals They’re Failing


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