Sunday, March 21, 2010

10.12 Homicide by David Simon

Homicide (1991) by David Simon

"Fans of the acclaimed television series The Wire won't be surprised to learn that the programme has its roots planted firmly in reality. Twenty years ago, its creator David Simon, then a young crime reporter in Baltimore, spent 12 months as a fly on the wall with the city's homicide unit. The resulting book, Homicide, not only spawned two huge shows (the other being Barry Levinson's seminal series of the same name), but also stands as one of the best studies of policing ever written. Simon's genius in this formidable book is to avoid the detailed forensic description popularised by dramas such as CSI, showing us instead the human side of “murder police”.

Although the detectives featured in Homicide possess plenty of skill, it is their personalities that matter. There is the unit's resident wizard, Donald Worden, a bearish man with a photographic memory, who Simon calls “the only surviving natural police detective in America”. During the course of the book's year, Worden finds himself enmeshed in two politically fraught cases that bring him to the point of resignation, an event that would tear the unit apart. There is Terry McLarney, the clandestinely sophisticated squad sergeant who dresses as if he “wouldn't come to work until the family dog had a chance to drag his shirt and sport coat across the front lawn”. And then there is Jay Landsman, the wisecracking sergeant whose practical jokes and vulgar witticisms mask an acute mind. (Fans of The Wire will recognise Landsman, as they will a number of other characters who are resurrected for the show.)

Although Homicide is perforce filled with harrowing detail, most notably an autopsy performed on a two-year-old, it also possesses a deep vein of dark comedy. Led by Landsman, the detectives deploy a gallows humor that has them batting one-liners back and forth like a group of seasoned vaudevillians. As Simon reminds us, “nothing in the world can come between a cop and his attitude”.

Of course, it is not all fun and games for the murder police, and Simon proves capable of balancing humour with an equally gripping pathos, as in the case of Gene Cassidy, a promising young cop who is blinded in a senseless shooting. And then there is the detective who quickly adjusts the clothing of a murdered woman moments before her distraught husband rushes into the room. No case is more affecting, however, than that of 11-year-old LaTonya Wallace, found strangled and eviscerated in a dark alley after being abducted on her way home from the library. Although the investigation of her death starts in a glare of publicity, it gradually falls upon the shoulders of one beleaguered detective, Tom Pellegrini, to carry the burden as the case grows colder - and his own health suffers.

The true genius of all of Simon's work is its scope. Just as The Wire encompasses an entire city by focusing on the work of one bedraggled police unit, so Homicide moves beyond individual victims to tell the stories of those touched by their deaths. By staring deep into the eyes of the departed, Simon reveals the mysteries of the living."

Stephen Amidon in The Sunday Times

A really amazing book. After having watched The Wire you can see many of the scenes and characters which were taken from the book.

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