STRANGER THAN FICTION
A Good Month For Murder is a true crime account of a homicide squad investigating a spate of killings. But what was it like shadowing the detectives as the bodies piled up?
I’ve really always been intrigued by homicide detectives and how they do their jobs,” Del Quentin Wilber tells Crime Scene. “I wanted to write a book that peeled back the veil on how they did their work, why they did it and I wrote it in the honest way of what I saw.”
A Good Month For Murder: The Inside Story Of A Homicide Squad is a hardhitting and unvarnished account of the detectives in the suburbs of Prince George’s County, Maryland. “I watched how they did it, and I wrote about what was going on in their heads, and I leave it to the reader to figure out why they do what they do,” says Wilber.
Although Wilber has covered crime as a newspaper reporter (he currently works for the LA Times), nothing quite prepared him for this: “I’d be getting a call at 3am to go to a homicide scene and I wouldn’t be home for 24 hours. I was always after the fact, so I was never scared. But by the end I was pretty burned out and had some PTSD issues. I saw like 27 corpses and went on some death notifications.”
Having been granted unparalleled access, Wilber shadowed the detectives for a time including a particularly brutal month in February 2013. His account follows 12 homicides, three policeinvolved shootings and the hunt for a killer across the border in Washington DC. The book has been greeted with rave reviews for its insight into the work of a murder squad, including praise from Peter James and Lee Child. “That was awesome, I love Lee Child, I’ve read every single one of his novels,” says Wilber.
As for the detectives’ reaction, they were apparently untroubled by some of their gallows humour and banter appearing in print. “I think they are nuts in their own way, a lot of them,” says Wilber. “It takes a special person, and they’re a little different. That made them really compelling characters to me. They really did seem to care about doing the right thing for the right reasons. I love the chase and I love the puzzle, and these guys really do agonise over solving things.”
Despite their logical investigative approach, the book’s title came from one of the prophecies from the cops following a lull in the killings. “They are very superstitious,” says Wilber. “How could you not be superstitious? It is really crazy standing next to a lump of flesh that had been a person an hour earlier.”
In the afterword to A Good Month For Murder, Wilber credits the influence of true crime classic Homicide by David Simon, who covered the police for the Baltimore Sun. It was a job Wilber later did himself. “He gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever had in the news business,” he says. “There’s one David Simon – he’s a genius.”
“I THINK THEY ARE NUTS IN THEIR OWN WAY, A LOT OF THEM”
Real detectives on the job on an investigation in M aryland.
A Good Month For Murder (Pan Macmillan) is out now.