‘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.’

‘The crime-infested intersection of West Fayette and Monroe Streets is well-known–and cautiously avoided–by most of Baltimore. But this notorious corner’s 24-hour open-air drug market provides the economic fuel for a dying neighborhood. David Simon, an award-winning author and crime reporter, and Edward Burns, a 20-year veteran of the urban drug war, tell the chilling story of this desolate crossroad. Through the eyes of one broken family–two drug-addicted adults and their smart, vulnerable 15-year-old son, DeAndre McCollough–Simon and Burns examine the sinister realities of inner cities across the country and unflinchingly assess why law enforcement policies, moral crusades, and the welfare system have accomplished so little. This extraordinary book is a crucial look at the price of the drug culture and the poignant scenes of hope, caring, and love that astonishingly rise in the midst of a place America has abandoned.’

First of all, apologies for my excessive blurbery! Unfortunately, I can’t really talk about Homicide without wanting to talk about The Corner so here I am, lumping them together in a rare mess of wonderful, depressing and factual joy.

I actually have a rather unnatural antipathy towards the crime genre in general (I blame Val McDermid for writing The Mermaids Singing– which had nothing to do with mermaids- and I blame myself for reading it when I was eleven years old), but of course after watching The Wire, I had to read the books. It is too depressing to give your tramp back and let things end.

So, I read the books and I concur with ALL of the four and five-star reviews EVERYWHERE. As one famous monarch never said: ‘We are not surprised.’ Simon and Burns (ex po-leece) don’t gloss over the ugly bits, whether it is evidence expiring because of a faulty fridge or Jay Landsman’s surreal excuses when late for work (worth reading for this alone, to be honest). Neither of the books offer simple problems with swift resolution (sadly, this is particularly true in the case of Latonya Wallace), nor do they pass judgement in The Corner when people slip up after trying to get out of the game. In the world of Homicide and The Corner, life is not lived according the classic good/ bad binary and I really appreciate the honesty with which Simon and Burns write about life on both sides of the law in Baltimore.

Another thing I really appreciated was the clarity (and thankfully, simplicity) of the style of prose used in the books. There is such a thing as too many or too pretentious adjectives (no offence intended, Mr Dickens). Simon, as a former journalist was already what you could call an established or successful writer when he started, but he combines his ability to write to inform and entertain with the spirit of his surroundings. As a result, his style of prose is one that feels very sympathetic, or natural in reference to his subject rather than something ‘gritty’ and contrived. It all adds to the experience of the books.

So, while I loved the books and the insight they provided, I do have a complaint that comes as a direct result of reading them. That is, now I cannot stand CSI, The Mentalist and any other lazily-researched crime shows. Even with the very small amount of legal process I learned from reading Simon and Burns’ work, I know that those shows suck. Whoever heard of a forensics team running a murder investigation? Why delude people into believing that being a crime scene investigator is a) more glamorous than it is and b) an easy job to get? Don’t pretend forensic experts aren’t balls-deep in a backlog of case evidence, gently decaying bodies and suspicious stained fibres that will just turn out to be dirty carpet. Even worse, there are so few positions available and so many more graduates with forensic qualifications because of one show. Seriously, fuck you, CSI. You should have read Homicide. Don’t even get me started on The Mentalist. Absolute poppycock.

I sound like a sanctimonious killjoy and I know that if I hadn’t read Homicide and The Corner, I would probably go ahead and say that to my own face. But I have, and there is no going back. I hate those shows now, and it’s all your fault, David Simon and Ed Burns. So be warned. If you’re a fan of CSI or a similar show and you want to keep watching, do not read these books. But you probably should.

Published by Mark Brassington

Father and Husband. Works in Corporate Banking. Loves Books, Comics, Cycling, Music, Games, going to the Gym and Writing.

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  1. Great review Emma. I love these books. I’m currently working through Homicide:Life on the Street (again), the TV series based on the book and a precursor to The Wire. It’s a fantastic, groundbreaking series which is well worth checking out if you haven’t seen it.

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