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In February 2013, journalist Del Quentin Wilbur spent a month with the Homicide Squad in Prince George’s County, which borders Washington DC. PG County (as it is referred to in the book) is in a fairly deprived area with a high crime rate, especially gun crime.

Wilbur gives details of the cases that the detectives investigate during the month of February, with maybe extra focus on the particularly heinous and apparently unmotivated murder of a young female in her own home.

I loved this book. The descriptions of the crime scenes, and how they affected the detectives was so well described, and more than just giving details of the work that these incredible people do, it also demonstrated how it affected them personally. I did feel that it must have clearly been influenced by David Simon’s ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’ (which for my money is one of the best non-fiction books ever written), and indeed, Wilbur does reference this book and explains that he wanted to see how the job of homicide detective had changed since Homicide was written in the late 80s.

This book made me thankful that I live in a country where gun crime is not prevalent – in PG County it’s basically part of life, and many innocent people get caught up in it – and made me wonder what it must be like to live your life constantly in fear.

Anyway, my review cannot do this book justice, but I do highly recommend it, especially for fans of true crime. There is no sensationalism here, just an interesting narrative of the facts, showing how the detectives go about their jobs, while trying to keep their own lives and minds intact.

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I listened to this as an audiobook, narrated extremely well by Michele Moran.

In the exclusive gated community of Withered Vale in Dublin, one of the occupants is found dead, having lain undiscovered in her home for three months. When it becomes obvious that her death was no accident, detectives Frank Brazil and Emma Child suspect that the culprit is one of her neighbours. As they interview the residents, it becomes clear that each of them had secrets which Olive had discovered, and all of them had reason to have killed her.

The narration alternates between all of the neighbours (seven houses in all) including Olive herself from beyond the grave, and the two detectives. This sounds like a lot of characters to keep straight, but Jo Spain did a super job of giving each character a distinctive voice. It’s true that Olive was clearly a deluded and often deeply unpleasant character, but I’m not sure that this is a community anyone would want to be part of! Some of the neighbours had more damaging and salacious secrets than others as you would expect, and each of them had had a falling out with Olive.

My favourite characters were the two detectives, who despite being of different eras and opinions, formed a respect and appreciation for each other.

I was kept guessing right until the end, and the ending itself did come as a surprise. Overall, a great listen and I would definitely read or listen to more by Jo Spain.

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In 1998, a young reporter named David Simon spent a year attached to the Baltimore Homicide Unit, reporting on what he saw, how the Officers did their jobs, various murders which were dealt with and how those cases progressed.  This book is the result of that year – and it’s an amazing and absorbing read (particularly for someone like myself, who generally prefers fiction).  No names were changed, although on a few occasions, certain persons remain anonymous, and there was no poetic licence used – events were written exactly as they occurred.

This book works both as an entertaining read, and a remarkable piece of journalism. One case in particular – the brutal molestation and murder of a young girl – forms a major part of the book, just as it formed a major part of the unit’s lives, and one detective in particular.

The writing itself is amazing and makes some of the cases so visible in the mind’s eye that it is at times almost painful to read.  But what are equally as compelling as the many cases written about, are the little anecdotes about squad room life, and the relationships between the various members of the squad.  Sometimes the detectives come across as callous, racially insensitive, and/or sexist, and certainly they seem to find humour in the darkest situations, but above all they come across as people determined to right some of the wrongs in the world.

It is the only third book I have read this year, but I am fairly confident that at in twelve months time, I will be listing it as one of my favourite books of 2009.  Very highly recommended.

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