Review written by Tracey Sinclair
Fans of The Wire will need no introduction to David Simon, but before he created The Greatest TV Show Ever Made, Simon was a journalist on the Baltimore Sun. Homicide: A Year on The Killing Streets is the result of his spending 12 months shadowing the Baltimore PD homicide department – and while it’s best known now as the book that sowed the seeds for Simon’s stellar TV career, it stands alone as a gripping and groundbreaking book.
Written with the fast pace and the slick prose of a crime thriller, Homicide is an unflinching look at the lives of the men (and it is mostly men) at the frontline of the ‘war on drugs’. It’s no polemic: it doesn’t canonise the cops or demonise the druggies; rather recognises that they are all caught up in the personal and social consequences of a State’s failing economy (there is, in the minds of both the police and the people, a clear distinction between drug/gang related crime that takes out those ‘in the Game’ and other crimes – the violent murder of a young girl which is the central ‘whodunnit’ of the story is seen by the whole community as abhorrent). Although as readable as any novel, the book is clearly grounded in fact: there are no easy answers, no obvious bad guys, and crimes go unsolved – this is the real life on the streets, not a sanitised Hollywood version.
Of course fans of The Wire (and its predecessor Homicide: Life on the Street) will get most from this book: it’s littered with familiar characters, and entire scenes from the TV series have been lifted, wholesale, from the text, eliciting smiles of recognition in what can occasionally be a tough read. But even if you’ve never seen the shows this inspired (though I’d urge you to rectify that at once) this is a thought provoking, riveting book that is impossible to put down.