Homicide: A year on the killing streets

Author: David Simon
Year: 1991
Genre: True Crime, Journalism

The woman who plays Maria on Sesame Street once told a story about a friend of hers who tried to impress a young child by saying "Guess what? I know Maria." The kid felt such familiarity with the TV show that she responded, "So? I know her, too."

After reading Homicide, I get a bit of that feeling every time I see a police officer. David Simon's year-long chronicle follows a shift of eighteen Baltimore City homicide detectives through searches, autopsies, interrogations, arrests, and trials, through sixteen-hour days working high-profile police shootings and child murders, and ghettos where drug murders happen almost daily. By the end, you feel like you've come to know them: their black humor, personality clashes, red-tape frustration, borderline alcoholism, expertise, instinct, and the sheer amount of work that goes into police work. Simon also communicates a deep respect for these men (and pretty much all of them are men) who face acts of absolute evil every day and still somehow maintain their sanity.

I picked up this book because I was a big fan of the TV show, and it was interesting to note the correspondences as I read. A few plot points are lifted from the book (the polygraph by Xerox, for instance), and some of the characters seem to be drawn on real Baltimore detectives. The TV producers used innovative writing and filming techniques to make the show seem up-close and personal, but in book form, the stories have an intimacy that can't be explained by the mere fact that it really happened that way.

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