The eight chapter of Homicide is not for the faint of heart. It’s also not meant to be read while eating, which I managed to be doing every time I picked up the book this week.
Simon takes us into the basement autopsy lab of the Penn Street Station — the medical examiner’s office not to be confused with the New York City train station. Yet, on a busy Sunday morning, he does compare the rows of bodies on metal gurneys to a “Grand Central Station of lifelessness,” (411).
As the detectives watch the bodies get disassembled, organs taken out and fluids drained, it’s clear that they are still human. The dark humour of the last chapter remains but the process of the autopsy isn’t a laughing matter, especially when a child or a fellow officer is on the table.
The detectives have a strained relationship with the MEs because their analysis of the body can affect whether or not the case is deemed a murder. I always assumed that the officers made the final call, but everyone involved in processing the body and the evidence has a say.
This comes up later in the chapter when Tom Pellegrini gets a possible substance match on the Latonya Wallace case, which has now been open for nine months. The scientists at the trace lab matched soot from the girls pants to the potential crime scene, but that’s not enough to charge his suspect with.
Everything needs to be backed up. A witness, evidence at the crime scene, anything. It amazes me that anyone gets convicted when detectives are running around trying to match one fibre to another in a city of more than 600,000 people. And sometimes that missing piece never gets found.
The Wallace case is still open years later, and although Pellegrini is still working it in the book he is clearly fatigued by the high profile case with nothing but dead-ends. A case that won’t go down can become an obsession and I wonder if Pellegrini will still be in homicide by the end of the book.
This chapter also calls attention to a dichotomy between detectives who work too hard, and detectives who don’t work hard enough. David Brown lets the murder of a woman run down by a car slip away while he busies himself with other cases. While I understand that murder is big business in a big city it boggles my mind that the killer of a dead woman, who is also a mother of five, doesn’t get investigated more enthusiastically.
I had a thought while I was reading this chapter: I wonder if the families of these real-life victims every read Homicide? And if they did what did they think about the work behind the scenes?