In an accomplished and vivid piece of reporting, Edgar Award winner Simon (Homicide, 1991) and retired detective Burns team up to document the struggles of a cross-section of the Baltimore drug subculture. By the mid-1990s, Baltimore had the highest rate of intravenous drug use in the country. Simon and Burns follow their West Baltimore subjects throughout the year 1993. Alternating bits of social history and commentary with intimate details of the corner inhabitants' lives, Simon and Burns focus primarily on three members of a single family, the McCulloughs: Gary, a junkie who had it all and lost it; his ex-wife, Fran, a user who nonetheless does her best to raise her boys; and DeAndre, a 15-year-old hustler for whom flash and brand name--whether Timberland, Nike, or Hilfiger--are all. The main players move forward, then backward, in fits and starts. For most of the others the reader meets, a steady downward trajectory describes their existence. The authors liken the corner heroin and crack market to a fast-food emporium, a place of ""sustenance,"" no less elemental to the inner cities of America than the watering hole is to the natural world. Against the fact of relentless addiction and the commerce of the drug marketplace, Simon and Burns argue, the drug war stands as a ""useless and unnecessary brutalization."" The authors don't claim to have the answers to eradicating the corner drug culture that thrives throughout America's cities. But their portrait suggests that any solution must be grounded in compassion for, and understanding of, a group of individuals who are wrongly seen by much of America as somehow less than human. Having gained the trust of their subjects, and with almost novelistic skill in bringing them (especially DeAndre) to life, Simon and Burns offer us a first step to achieving that understanding.