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Reportage for an era...,
This review is from: Homicide: a Year on the Killing Streets (Mass Market Paperback)
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.