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Homicide Special: A Year in the Life of the LAPD's Elite Detective Unit

Homicide Special: A Year in the Life of the LAPD's Elite Detective Unit

by Miles Corwin

A riveting, behind-the-scenes look at one of the most elite, highly trained units of homicide

detectives in the country

Los Angeles is a town of dreamers—and of those who prey on them. The scene of innumerable bizarre crimes, it is also home to a unique police unit called Homicide Special, whose mandate is to take on the toughest, most


A riveting, behind-the-scenes look at one of the most elite, highly trained units of homicide

detectives in the country

Los Angeles is a town of dreamers—and of those who prey on them. The scene of innumerable bizarre crimes, it is also home to a unique police unit called Homicide Special, whose mandate is to take on the toughest, most controversial, and highest-profile cases. Now acclaimed writer Miles Corwin uses his unprecedented access to this legendary unit to narrate six of its cases—and capture its newest generation at work.

When a call girl from Kiev dies in the line of duty, detectives Chuck Knolls and Brian McCartin seek her killer among a circle of Russian women who have been sold unwittingly into white slavery. When a gangster’s daughter, brought up in Las Vegas, takes a bullet, veterans Jerry Stephens and Paul Coulter trace clues scattered across the country to one of Manhattan’s wealthiest real estate magnates. A cold case is reopened; a suspicious mother-daughter drowning and a baffling rape/murder are solved. And finally, Corwin re-creates the investigation surrounding the late Bonny Lee Bakley, a woman driven—like her city—by the desire for fame, and allegedly murdered by her actor-husband, Robert Blake.

Compulsively readable, artfully written, and surprisingly redemptive, Homicide Special offers a thrilling insider’s report on some of the nation’s most high-profile and complex homicides—and the extraordinary men who solve them.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Granted "unfettered access" to one of the LAPD's investigative units, Homicide Special, Los Angeles Times crime reporter Corwin (The Killing Season; And Still We Rise) shadowed several veteran detectives during 2001 and 2002. While not recounting every homicide case he observed, the author vividly renders a handful that exemplify the range of entrenched social fissures and seedy criminality that have long defined Los Angeles. From its ethnic underbelly to the unnoticed fringes of Hollywood fame, the investigations include the murders of a struggling screenwriter and a daughter of a former Las Vegas mobster; a Japanese mother and daughter found bound together and floating in a marina weeks after their deaths; a beautiful immigrant prostitute with complicated connections to the Russian mafia; a teenage girl killed 38 years ago-a "cold case" that was reopened by a pair of devoted detectives; and Bonny Lee Bakley, wife of actor Robert Blake, whose bloody death became chum for a tabloid feeding frenzy. With a touch of Chandleresque panache, Corwin's true crime reads like vintage noir, delivering taut dialogue sprinkled with off-color wisecracks and lyrical passages describing horizons "veiled by a tawny band of smog" or harbors filled with the "thrumming of boat engines and the squall of gulls." But unlike the ham-and-eggs detectives of Chandler's era, these latter-day California cops (the unit worked on the O.J. Simpson case) wear fancy suits purchased in Thailand, moonlight as sous-chefs and munch on "pumpkinseed-crusted three-cheese chile rellenos with papaya salsa." (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Los Angeles Times reporter Corwin spent a year with the Homicide Special unit of the LAPD post-O.J. and here does a commendable job of providing "you are there" narration of his experience. To the credit of the unit (and the department), it is apparent that Corwin was granted unfettered access. While clearly the unit has come a long way since the debacle of the O.J. Simpson investigation, the mind-numbing bureaucracy-lab work routinely takes months, even years-illustrates the need for more improvement. Corwin covers a handful of cases (including the shamelessly premature initial investigation of the murder of Bonny Lee Bakley, wife of actor Robert Blake). The cases are interspersed with a history of the region and the LAPD, and Corwin does a good job of describing the meticulous, tedious, and seemingly glacial nature of police work. Unfortunately, the book falls short when he turns to personalizing the detectives, reading too much like a script. Recommended for large true-crime collections and especially useful for readers considering a career in law enforcement.-Karen Sandlin Silverman, CFAR-Ctr. for Applied Research, Philadelphia Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A literate, unfailingly interesting work of true crime by a veteran of the genre, picking up where his The Killing Season (1997) left off. Those readers who were glued to the set during the long, tawdry trial of O.J. Simpson will be forgiven for thinking the LAPD's detective division to be a nest of incompetents, Corwin allows. Homicide Special's "maladroit investigation" and Simpson's acquittal were low spots in an already hit-or-miss record. But, almost as soon as Simpson went free, the division was overhauled, with most of its staff forced into retirement or transferred. In their place came the elegantly dressed, multilingual, sophisticated cops (one lieutenant a former chef, another officer a former sales executive, and so on) who figure in Corwin's recounting of half a dozen grisly cases as they slowly unfold. One is the murder of a Ukrainian prostitute, which affords an intriguing glimpse into the seedy world of the Russian mafia, with an array of suspects: ". . . looking like a caricature," Corwin writes, one of them "wears a gray leather jacket, a gold Gucci belt, and a garish pink, black, and white silk shirt." Another, a poorly staged suicide involving a Viagra-popping, toupee-wearing would-be stud and his unfortunate girlfriend, offers a fine glimpse into good cop-bad cop procedure ("The sympathetic approach is the best way," one weary cop remarks, though toughness clearly works, too). Still another-and Corwin's one big nod to the noirish possibilities of Hollywood-draws on recent headlines to recount the unit's investigation of B-grade actor Robert Blake, whose thoroughly unlikable wife conveniently ended up with a bullet in her head as Blake ducked into a restaurant toretrieve his own gun: a strange matter indeed, one in which nothing made sense until the dogged detectives turned up the hard evidence that had eluded them in that earlier celebrity case. A revealing look at the real, deeply unpleasant work of murder investigators. Agent: Barney Karpfinger

Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.52(h) x 1.37(d)

Read an Excerpt

From Homicide Special:

Susan Berman’s wood-shingled cottage seems distinctly out of place at the edge of Beverly Hills. In Berman’s living room, a Liberace ashtray, shaped like a piano, holds a few crumpled butts. On the wall are pictures of Berman’s parents: her mother tap-dancing, one of her father’s wanted posters, which reads “Reward $8000.” Another wall features a photo of Susan in a party dress posing with Jimmy Durante. Her refrigerator contains only a carton of milk, a half-stick of butter, a jug of cranberry juice cocktail and a package of cheddar cheese.

In the spare bedroom where Berman was killed, faint winter light bleeds through the window and illuminates a few brownish-red commas of blood. Berman was found in a white T-shirt and purple sweatpants. Barefoot. A single bullet casing was discovered next to her body. She was shot once in the back of the head.

Meet the Author

A former staff reporter at the Los Angeles Times, Miles Corwin is the author of The Killing Season and And Still We Rise. He lives in Los Angeles.

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