The first book that really launched my interest in reading true crime is Homicide by David Simon. If you haven’t read it, it’s a classic true crime book which tells the story of the writer spending a year following around Baltimore homicide detectives. This took place in the late 80s and at the time, crime was rampant in Baltimore and the detectives were kept more than busy. Over the course of 1988, the year that he was with them, there were nearly 300 murders in Baltimore. While he does go into detail on some of these murders, he also records smaller minutiae of the detectives day-to-day tasks and when they’re just drinking beers and bullshitting with each other.
It’s considered a classic of the genre partially because of the raw and realistic portrayal he paints of what must be an incredibly stressful job. Unlike quite a lot of crime fiction, he totally breaks down the facade of glamour and romance that was often involved in fictionalized detective stories, especially in noir films and pulp fiction of the 40’s and 50’s.
In short, simon doesn’t mince words, nor does he sugarcoat anything. The reality of the detectives lives is dark and gritty beyond anything imaginable. It’s visiting the crime scene of a murdered child on a road littered with trash, early in the morning when you’re either still drunk or on your way to hungover. It’s obsessing about that same murdered child and regretting that it may never be solved because there’s always a new murder to work.
It’s an unflinching portrayal of this reality. It gave me a harsher glimpse into the life of a detective than I was ready for. It lead me to awful truths I didn’t know existed and revealed a lot about class tension in relation to crime.
The show spawned a series, Homicide: life on the streets, which used some of the same real names and scenarios from the book. It also inspired the tv show The Wire, which Simon ran for 5 seasons. It’s more of a loose translation but involves many of the same themes. It’s one of my favorite shows and is critically acclaimed for its realism mixed with incredible storytelling. The first few seasons are akin to a Shakespearean tragedy set in modern day Baltimore.
I highly recommend both the book and the wire to true crime fans. Both have the quality of being able to transport the reader or viewer into the world of these detectives and this quality causes both to feel emotionally gripping. Both also exposed me to a world I never knew existed which lead to a lot of critical thinking and restructuring of my world view. In short, they opened my eyes.
By Lola Stone
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