Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

October 11, 2013 Book Reviews 1 ★★★★★

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets five-stars
on 05/31/1991
Pages: 631
Format: Paperback

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The scene is Baltimore. Twice every three days another citizen is shot, stabbed, or bludgeoned to death. At the center of this hurricane of crime is the city's homicide unit, a small brotherhood of hard men who fight for whatever justice is possible in a deadly world.
David Simon was the first reporter ever to gain unlimited access to a homicide unit, and this electrifying book tells the true story of a year on the violent streets of an American city. The narrative follows Donald Worden, a veteran investigator; Harry Edgerton, a black detective in a mostly white unit; and Tom Pellegrini, an earnest rookie who takes on the year's most difficult case, the brutal rape and murder of an eleven-year-old girl.

Review by Travis Starnes

Homicide is one of the better true crime style books I have read, although that might be because it is more crime reporting then true crime. Simon spent a year with the Baltimore police following members of the Homicide division and focuses primarily on 3 of its members.  Many will recognize the names and some of the situation in this book as it was made into the well acclaimed TV series Homicide: Life on the Streets several years after the book came out.  Even without all the hype around this book following the success of the affiliated TV show, Simon was definitely at the top of his game.

His writing is very engaging and he has the non-fiction narrative down to a science. The book has more of a novel feel then a biography of the people involved yet never feels like fiction.  More importantly this is one of the few books of this style where you don’t feel the author has turned himself into a character. Other books of the same genre, such as Homicide Special, try for the same thing but don’t get close.   In those books the reader can still feel the writer in their presence. On top of that the detectives he picks are interesting.  Each fits a different cop/detective stereotype yet Simon is good at showing you their full personality so they never feel like a stereotype.

More importantly the cases the officers work on are all pretty engaging.  They have been picked because they are either interesting or representative of a type of case the homicide department regularly faces.  What you don’t get are cases that are slam dunks and some of them are not even solvable. Many authors would feel a need to make their book wrap up completely with all of the cases coming to some kind of conclusion. I applaud Simon for not giving in to that temptation.

After this book was released Baltimore became a fairly popular city in media.  Just like similar works set in there, such as the well-received show The Wire, Baltimore feels like a character.  The people and the places all form an colorful and sometimes disturbing backdrop to the story.  The big difference here is that this was one of the early works to use Baltimore this way, and it still feels like a fresh take on the city.

If you are interested in detective work, true crime, or just getting the feeling of what it is to be a cop in a big city this is an excellent read. I highly recommend this book.

Rating Report
Overall: 4.7

One Response to “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets”

  1. Chris Romans

    I found it curious that you feel Baltimore became a character in and of itself. This immediately brought to mind some my own experiences there. Some fairly generic, like visiting the ever so popular aquarium there, and some more interesting one’s like going to the club Sonar to see some bands, get some drinks, and have a good time in the city. It definitely is an area that is alive, and unfortunate prone to a high murder rate, as this book no doubt highlights. You have definitely caught my attention with Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Indeed, I am a bit more inclined to check it out since it walks the line of novel and documentary, which would no doubt be interesting to read. Anyone else care to join in with their opinion on this book if they read it?

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