Saturday, March 28, 2009


One of the revelations of David Simon's excellent Homicide (inspiration for the best TV show of the 1990s) is how closely police work at the elite investigative level resembles virtually any other kind of corporate work. Office politics is office politics, whether the office contains adpeople, engineers or homicide detectives. Granted, the atmosphere Simon describes is more juvenile than that of the office I worked in during the year chronicled in the book, but mutatis mutandis I recognized a lot of the Marathon Oil Company's operations research department in the Baltimore PD Homicide squad.

One aspect of Homicide foregrounded by my recent re-reading of Thompson's Vegas book is Simon's rather bizarre effacement of his own role in the events described. A newspaperman, he errs on the side of traditionalist caution, writing a work of journalism that, while 'novelistic,' is in no way 'participatory.' Simon, who was apparently present during most of the book's scenes, completely writes himself out of his own book--an act that surely leaves traces somewhere in the rhetorical fabric, and a choice that, while constructing a pretense of 'objectivity,' implicitly calls the very concept into question by suggesting its constructed, artificial nature. In short, perhaps Simon has written a book that deconstructs traditional journalism, but does it unintentionally, as a side effect of its rhetorical construction of that journalism's dogmatic 'objectivity.' Until this moment I hadn't realized how transparently de Manian this book is. In the text's blindness (to the author's presence) lies its most subversive insight: the self-deconstructing nature of journalistic objectivity.

But the best parts of Homicide are all attitude. Cynicism, pessimism, deadpan outrage, sick humor (beyond sick, truly demented). The book's best prose comes in its purely expository/descriptive passages, where Simon monologues on "the job," the autopsy room, the interrogation, and how "they own you" once you've committed an imperfect murder. The Ten Rules of Homicide are also very good, especially the last: There is such a thing as a perfect murder. Perfect murders are not uncommon and detectives hate them. They're filed under the less explosive category "unsolved."

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