Last year, I read a book called Difficult Men, which was all about the men (sigh, because it’s always men) behind some of the best TV shows, the ones that brought on a new wave of television (ex. The Sopranos, The Wire, and Mad Men). This book talked about The Wire and its creator, David Simon, extensively. In the midst of that discussion, a book Simon wrote, entitled Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, was mentioned. It sounded interesting, so I added it to my list of future reads.
This book is like nothing I have read before. The premise is this: In the late 1980s, David Simon, a reporter, gained no-holds-barred access to the Baltimore homicide squad for a full year. He followed them around on their cases, hung out with them, got into their brains, and then he wrote this book.
It is captivating, on so many levels. It is a fascinating look at the city of Baltimore, a place that has long been besieged by violent crime (it still is). It is an illuminating examination of the police force and how it functions, both as an independent entity and within the city of Baltimore. It is a searing and heartfelt portrayal of the men (because it is almost entirely men) who dealt, on a daily basis, with the most brutal atrocities that human beings can commit against one another. Not only how they dealt with the violence on a professional level, but, more importantly, and more interestingly, on a personal level.
Simon really gets under these guys’s skin. He gets into their heads. He understands them and the system that they work in in a way that is probably completely unprecedented. I was often appalled reading this book, many times disgusted and disgruntled and disillusioned. But I couldn’t put it down. (It is the reason I have started bringing a book to the gym, so I can read while I ride the stationary bike.) When it was over, I missed those detectives with a fierceness that surprised me.
I haven’t read very many books like this. It is, on occasion, very dense. But it is an extremely worthwhile read, whether you like a good murder mystery, or whether you are interested in psychology, or whether you’d just like some insight into police work in the 1980s. Do be warned, though: Simon does not pull punches when it comes to the gruesome and brutal nature of what the cops encounter. I can’t recommend this book enough, and I can’t wait to get my hands on his other book, which, ironically and, perhaps, inevitably, is about the year he spent on the other side of the law, getting in good with Baltimore’s drug culture.
Find other books I have recommended here.