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?

Crime Scene - - CASE NOTES - By AN­DRE PAINE

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.

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