Magazine article The Spectator

This Is America

Magazine article The Spectator

This Is America

Article excerpt

HOMICIDE by David Simon Canongate, £12.99, pp. 656, ISBN 9781847673114 £10.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

DEATH DYED BLONDE by Stanley Reynolds Quartet, £25, pp. 254, ISBN 9780704371354

David Simon was a Baltimore Sun reporter who, having spent a Christmas Eve observing the city's homicide squad, somehow got the department's permission to spend an entire year with them as a 'police intern'. The result, in 1991, was this stunning book, now published for the first time in this country, following the massive critical success of the television show Simon created, The Wire.

The Wire may be the first programme praised in the media by more people, at least in this country, than have seen it on screen, which may define a cult classic. When critics rhapsodise over its writing, they highlight the Washington novelist, George Pelecanos, a cult hero himself, Dennis (Mystic River) Lehane, or the novelist and screenwriter, Richard Price, who contributes an introduction to this volume. But the heart of the show's writing is done by Simon and his ex-cop partner, Ed Burns, and after just a few pages of Homicide it's easy to see why.

Homicide flows with the episodic drive of the best fiction, but Simon is too good a reporter to miss the real stories. His cops suffer as they pursue a Sisyphean task, their humanity challenged as they try to cope. Joseph Wambaugh milked the comedy from this years ago in fiction, but Simon's people have the advantage of being real, both bigger than life and smaller than fiction. There are the criminals, who are usually punished by their own stupidity rather than by CSI-style forensic police work.

Most tellingly, there are the victims. Simon's genius is that through his cops he tells the victims' story, of people abandoned by society to a world where poverty, addiction, and violence are the norm. The picture is overpowering.

Paradoxically, it is also hugely entertaining, even to the bear-like detective, Donald Worden, who, leaving the hospital where's he's reduced a man stabbed in the groin by his wife to painful laughter, reflects on 'the shit you see out here', and then says, 'my God, he had to admit, there are still moments when I love this job'. But throughout the book Worden is haunted by the unsolved kidnapping of 11-year-old Latonya Wallace, the kind of crime, the kind of loss, that gnaws away under even his thick hide.

This is how The Wire works. Homicide became a good television show produced by Baltimore-born film director, Barry Levinson.

Simon wrote some episodes, which convinced him that his experience could be made into even more compelling television. …

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