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Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets
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65 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on 10 February 2009
Despite being yet another who came to this book via The Wire, I had my doubts before reading it. Could it really be as brilliant, as addictive, and most importantly as entertaining as The Wire? Surely this is a huge tome full of dry forensic details and information about hair strands and blood splashes? Maybe a grisly peek into a blood drenched hell hole of a city? Or maybe a rip roaring "warts and all" exposé of boorish, wiseguy detectives, 700 pages of foul language and Budweiser? None of those particularly appeal to me, but it turns out that this book contains a little of each and much more. What's more, these strands are woven together by David Simon into a book so readable, so addictive - words that flow so easily off the page - it seems like magic. And all this despite the subject matter - knife wounds, rape, dead infants, drugs, autopsy procedures, the very dregs of society? Of course it's as good as The Wire.

When a non-fiction author grapples with several case studies and a wide array of characters in a book like this, it usually follows that some will be weaker than others, some less interesting, some you want to skip to get onto the good stuff. It is a problem with most non-fiction of this kind. Not here. Simon pitches and paces his book to near perfection. Although the Latonya Wallace investigation forms the spine of the book, there is never the urge to skip ahead or skim over boring bits. There are no boring bits. The cases covered vary widely in nature and in significance, but they are all gripping. Simon lays out a huge spread, and it's all equally tasty. Why is it good? Why is it as good as The Wire? Why is it like The Wire? Simon cares. He has a down to earth integrity that you can feel before you hit page 10. He cares about the job, the detectives, the victims. He wants to get it right. He wants to do justice to everything he sees. He wants to show you, without gimmicks.

Simon has it. His voice is restrained, his view detached and his wits about him at all times. He observes. He gets pally with neither his subjects or his reader. The language is plain and the structure of the book nothing innovative, but he is an incredible story teller. This is an incredible book. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes to read - you needn't be an afficionado of crime procedurals, true crime, blood and guts. This is gripping, intelligent and interesting story telling of the highest order.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 6 March 1999
This is a very realistic account of a year in the lives of one shift of homicide detectives written by a newspaper reporter that reads as well as fiction. You are right there at the crime scenes with the primary detectives when they roll the body over looking for clues, when they interview the witnesses, fill out the paperwork and go out for drinks after work when the board is changed from red to black, signifying the case has been closed. You can get a real appreciation as to what it is like to be an underpaid, underappreciated and overworked homicide investigator in a major city. Interrrogation techniques are revealed in this unique book. Some trial action. Definitely worth the read. Contains real life violence. A good companion to the TV show.
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88 of 92 people found the following review helpful
on 15 February 2000
I furst stumbled across this book in 1996 while studying film at college. I was a fan of the TV series and had just finished reading Clockers by Richard Price and thought it might be a worthy successor. What I read was perhaps the most astounding piece of literature I had ever picked up. Unlike many police procedurals the writing never wandered into a stale environment of form numbers and procedures and instead was a revelation at how tedious and tumultuous just a normal day can be. Crimes are interwoven into a cross section of Baltimore society with such skill and craftmanship that sometimes its almost too painful to witness the events that permeate the narrative. The skill of the writing and the sheer power of the subject matter combine until it is only with great reluctance that you manage to put the book down. I could go on for ever at how a little girls death rips through the entire homicide unit that in the hands of a lesser author would have been a book unto itself. But exisitng on the periphery of the main investigations are myriad vignettes into the hearts and minds that are equally as compelling. The use of ellipsis in the writing is magical and draws you further into the world of the detectives and their work but reading you find yourself witnessing the harrowing state of mind of a community wrenched apart by crime. Simons talent lies in how he manages to plug into the veins of this community while suggesting the problems are far from regional. Reading it for the second time a month ago made a great book even better. read it or it is sadly your loss. Check out The Corner as well.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I bought this book months ago and immediately put it on one side because a) I hadn't realised it was non-fiction and thought it was a novel and b) it was just so enormous - 650 pages!
However when I finished the last DVD in The Wire I felt bereft and missing the mean streets of Baltimore. So now was the time to tackle Homicide..... I was not disappointed - in fact it is one of the best pieces of factual reportage that I have ever read. Simon was given access to the Police Department Homicide team for a year during which time he came to know the individual detectives and their strengths and weaknesses, the problems of policing the city, the local politics, the tyranny of the "solved crimes" league tables. He also records the black humour that detectives use as well as the many acts of empathy and kindness.

Rarely a day goes by without a murder taking place. Many are easily solved -such as domestics. Murders involving drug dealers and customers are usually met with a wall of silence and often the culprit is never identified. Other murders (such as when the victim is a child) arouse great anger and distress and extra resources are poured into the squad in order to find the guilty person.

Although non-fiction the book is constructed like a novel. As the book progresses the reader becomes more and more involved in the life of the homicide department. I found myself willing Pellegrini to somehow find the killer of little Latonya Wallace......

The writing is superb - not a superfluous word - and the book is packed with social issues relating the crime and punishment.

Highly recommended for anyone who likes crime fiction or police procedurals.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 October 2010
David Simon is probably best known to British audiences for his work on the television series 'The Wire' and 'Generation Kill', but he began as a journalist for the Baltimore Sun. In 1988 he took a year's leave of absence to shadow Baltimore's homicide detectives, and the result is this book, originally published in 1991: an unprecedentedly graphic and honest account of real police work.

Today, twenty years later, Baltimore, an East Coast city about the size of Leeds, has a murder rate seven times the US national average and six times higher than that of New York. In 1988, as now, Baltimore was recording around 250 murders a year, many of them drug-related, ninety percent black-on-black. David Simon spent a year accompanying Baltimore's detectives to crime scenes and to interview witnesses, to the morgue and to bars. The reader is slowly drawn into a world in which only bleak humour sustains the spirits of men who have to deal on a daily basis not just with the darkest aspects of human behaviour but with the political dimensions of police work and the enduring problems of limited resources. 'Homicide' is constructed like a novel, and Simon has the gifts of a novelist. Over the course of the book we come to know Baltimore's detectives as characters as vivid as anything in Dickens: it is they who hold the narrative together as the relentless tide of murder rolls on.

'Homicide' was subsequently made into an award-winning TV series, but the book is better - less compromised by the demands of television. This, and Simon's subsequent book 'The Corner', are the foundation stones on which 'The Wire' was constructed. 'Homicide' is brutal, harsh, revealing, politically incorrect and often very funny. It's a compelling read, and is highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 5 January 2009
If you were putting books into a time capsule, wanting to tell future generations what life was like, you'd include this. It's that good.

Fans will know that David Simon co-wrote The Wire, probably the best piece of television for at least 20 years, if not ever. If you want to know how that all started, and where it got its' biting authenticity, novel-like sweep, attention to detail, and editorial bravery; well, it's all here.

Simon was given an opportunity that, frankly, will never come again. No-one now is going to ever let a reporter follow every single aspect of life as a homicide detective, and then spill the guts of all those involved. Simon had a chance in a million, and took it. In some ways, it was an open goal - the stories and the characters and the circumstances tumble out of their own accord - dramatic, sad, blistering, banal, wretched and inspiring. But it is still a testament to Simon's skill as both a fiction writer and a journalist, that he pulled it together so coherently.

Quibbles? As another reviewer noted, as it was written in the 1980s, some aspects of investigation and policing (especially forensics) have overtaken it. But then, it is a period piece par excellence, and no less evocative for not being current.

What struck me above everything else was that the bodies simply kept coming. It might sound obvious; given that every murder in a year is described. But for me, this is the ultimate power of the book. There are no pat endings, rounding up and squaring off; it is simply a waterfall of bodies and lying.

If you haven't seen The Wire (shame on you!) this is an ideal introduction. If you have, this fills in some of your questions and musings. If you simply want to know what life was like in a North American city in the late 1980s, this will show you in excruciating, brilliant detail.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 15 April 2009
I'll try to evaluate the quality of this book as succinctly as possible, while employing an analogy of sorts. If you like The Wire, or any other show about detective work/crime, then imagine your favourite episode being played out in your mind's eye, multiply the intellectual impact and emotional intensity by ten, and prolong the pleasure for however long this books takes you to read. That is how I choose to describe this epic.
If you decide to read it, I hope you agree. No superlatives would truly do it justice.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 26 May 2013
In company with a number of readers I came to this well written and informative book via David Simon's famous achievement "The Wire" and the far less well known but good precursor "Homicide Life on the Streets". Both these well made cop shows capture the essence of Simon's exceptional book which reads like a thriller with never a dry page. Simon spent one year with Baltimore's harassed and seriously tried detectives bringing the eye and pen of a committed journalist in a narrative that captures with sharp detail the crime scenes, interviews, interrogations, bureaucratic mismanagement and often insensitive humour played out against a backdrop of flawed and deeply vulnerable humanity.

In a reflection, penned a number of years after publication, Simon details his relationships with the various detectives and also rightly draws attention to the limitations of a rotation system that is the misplaced intention of an obscure elite who feel obliged to endlessly tinker with established and often successful police practices. The unfortunate result is a revolving door that sheds the expertise of highly experienced detectives for younger replacements who lack the judgement and knowledge of older men. Here Baltimore's misfortunes are mirrored by introductions of dubious benefit forced on the Metropolitan Police in the 1980s. Whilst working at Heathrow Airport I witnessed some amiable exchanges between a uniformed officer and his former newsagent from Southall. The officer, who had worked in this town with a large immigrant community for 21 years, had recently been moved to the Airport under the obligatory demands of IDT (Inter Departmental Transfer) Rightly the officer was convinced that the good rapport he had enjoyed with many of Southall's legions of Asian traders had gone to waste.

Trottman
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 3 July 2009
David Simon, a newspaper reporter, spent a year with the Baltimore Police Department's homicide unit and this book is the tale of what he experienced in that time. It's a unique study of the people who both investigate and commit murder in a city where death is far too common on too many of its streets.

Although this is a long book, it crams an awful lot in. There is not much filler as Simon covers case after case, along with plenty of observations on characters involved, police procedure, office politics and the street life of Baltimore as a whole. It is a riveting read.

The detectives and police as a whole are not depicted as the saints of the piece, they are real people and the book does not have a sanitised feel. They have problems, occasionally mistakes are made and they are subject to the same office politics, pressures and difficulties that more common jobs are.

Instead they come across as people (predominantly men) who are doing a difficult job the best way they can. Some are better cut out for it than others, and you are left with the impression that being a homicide detective is more of a calling than a job.

Although written in the late 1980s, it is clear that the basics of police work are relatively timeless so it does not feel like an historical piece. The obvious exception is the technology involved, especially DNA analysis, which was in its infancy at the time.

Off the back of the book came the TV series Homicide: Life on the Street and more recently David Simon created The Wire. If you are a fan of these shows then this book is a good read to see where it all began. I have not watched either but having enjoyed the book I'm sure they would be a good watch.

If you have any interest in police work or just a fascination in how an extraordinary job is actually performed, Homicide is well worth reading.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 17 February 2014
Homicide is probably one of the best books I’ve read this year.

It’s long and hard going in places, but it’s worth it. Insightful, funny, witty, well-written, intelligent—there are a million accolades I could bestow upon this book, which probably wouldn’t even do it justice. If you have any interest at all in finding out how the justice system works, and especially a homicide department, then you need to read this. It’ll definitely fill in some dark spots of your knowledge. Every juror in America should be forced to read this before they go on the jury of a murder trial.

Before you read anything else: STOP.

Buy this book.

Read it.

And then thank me.
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