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Posted Sept 1997
*** DISCLAIMER: This document is offered 'as is,' without apologies, with the expectation you will assist me in its construction by pointing out any errors you find. Enjoy!

Portions which are new since it was last posted are marked with a ! ; modified sections are marked with a + ***




I promise you, any question you have _has_ been asked before, so don't waste our time apologizing/hoping your question hasn't been brought up already; it has!  But, there is nothing wrong with bringing up the subject again, because new opinions/light/information may be shed and shared the second (or fourth, or thirtieth) time a subject is hashed.  So (after reading for two weeks) feel free to ask any questions you want.

But, if you are really only in search of some basic info, you will probably find it below.  Read on, and learn.

3.1..What is this show about?

A squad of homicide detectives in Baltimore, MD struggles to clear the cases that come their way.  Most of the cases are homicides (of course) of the garden variety (common and unremarkable).  But occasionally, a "red-ball" (a high profile case with the accompanying media coverage, and the department's higher-ups demanding it be closed immediately) lands in their laps.  Any red-ball case, even if it's not a murder, gets handled by the homicide unit (because they are the most skilled investigators on the force; yes, that really is how they do it in Baltimore).  So they get the police-related shootings, the TV-coverage missing persons cases, and so on, in addition to all the suspicious deaths.

The detectives on a given shift of the Homicide department are broken down into partnerships.  But the cases (and the responsibility of clearing them) are assigned entirely by chance.  Whoever answers the call from dispatch announcing a case becomes the "primary."  The primary is ultimately in charge of the entire investigation.  If the primary's partner is unavailable (or if the detective in question is partnerless), then the lieutenant or sergeant on duty will usually assign someone else to partner with the primary, just for this case.

H:LotS is an ensemble show.  In some episodes, the story will concern itself with each character and their respective cases.  Some episodes will focus on one partnership, or even one detective, and one particular case they are working.

As an aside, there has been much conjecture and debate about the origin of the phrase "red-ball".  Following are the two most authoritative (sounding) theories I've yet seen, both contributed by posters on a.t.h.

*** FWIW, "Red Ball Express" was the name of a commercial freight firm (which may still exist) that was noted for quick delivery via trucks during the 1930s. During the breakout from Normandy in the summer of 1944 (WWII), "The Red Ball Express" was the nickname given the transportation units that sped supplies from the beachheads and other captured ports to the increasingly distant fighting units.

***I do believe that a red ball was originally a railroading expression; a redball had the priority right of way on the tracks.  In other cities these type cases are sometimes called 'heaters' (it tends to get very warm) or apes (Acute Political Emergencies).

3.2..What about the book it's based on?

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon, Ivy  Books (published by Ballantine Books), ISBN # 0-8041-0999-0. c 1991 Take this information to a bookseller, and they will be able to order it (probably only in paperback).  Or, look for it at a used bookstore; many booksellers are now reporting this as being out of print, so a used copy may be the only one you could obtain.  Of course, the local library is always a viable option, too.  Matt Fuller [] writes "Put '' as a source for this book.  I ordered the paperback from them recently with no problem."

David Simon wrote it while on a one-year leave of absence from being a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, during which he tagged along as an observer of all things dealing with the Baltimore Police Department's Homicide squads.  It is an exceptional book, and will increase your appreciation of the series if you read it.

Also, of note, is the fact that David Simon is no longer a reporter, but has now found work as a screenwriter and consultant for (among other shows) Homicide: Life on the Street.  His name has also graced shows such as NYPD Blue; but it was an exceptional episode, so we don't hold it against him...

A related book may also be of interest, Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures and Forensic Techniques. 2nd Ed. Vernon J. Geberth. 1992. Reprint ed. 47.95. 0-8493-9507-0, HV8079.  There are several quotes of note drawn from it, like "We work for God" and "We speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves".

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