Sometimes narrative nonfiction can be as compelling as a good novel. Del Quentin Wilber's book, A Good Month for Murder, is an excellent example. The award-winning reporter spent months with the Prince George's County, Maryland, Homicide Squad, and then distilled his research into a book that covers February, 2013, one month that exemplifies the inside workings of a dedicated, dogged team of detectives.
Twenty-five detectives and five sergeants make up the PG Homicide Unit, a group expected to investigate crimes in the county east of the capital. It's a county of almost 900,000 residents, a diverse population that's spread over 485 square miles. And, the unit members work long shifts, sometimes 48 hours straight, to try to solve homicides. Wilber refers to it as "homicide, policing's most dynamic and intellectually challenging assignment."
It was Lieutenant Billy Rayle who supplied the title for the book. After a quiet December, 2012, he predicted January would get busier. "But February - watch out. Be ready for February. It will be a good month for murder." And, he was right. PG County's Homicide Squad had to deal with twelve killings in twenty-eight days, a daunting job. Why is Wilber's book so compelling? He introduces readers to the men and women of the Homicide Squad, their quarks and eccentricities, providing short sketches to show how they arrived in Homicide. He introduces murder victims, as seen through the eyes of the investigating detectives. He shows how cop humor sometimes gets them through the long hours and frustrations. And, he takes readers into the hours of legwork, paperwork, questioning of witnesses and suspects. Sometimes the detectives find the killers. Sometimes, the cases drag on for years, while the detectives are still determined to find answers.
Wilber's book left me wanting more. I wanted to know more than he gave us in the epilogue. Where are those detectives now? The author did mention some that had retired at the time he wrote the book. But, he makes us care about the members of that Homicide Squad. And, he makes us care about the men and women who give up family life, sleep, health, in order to solve homicides. A Good Month for Murder is the story of people who dedicated their lives and careers to putting killers in prison while finding answers for grieving family members.
A Good Month for Murder: The Inside Story of a Homicide Squad by Del Quentin Wilber. Henry Holt and Company. 2016. ISBN 9780805098822 (hardcover), 273p.
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