Horn (Waiting for My Cats to Die, 2001, etc.) captures with crackling intensity the work of cops who investigate long-unsolved homicides.
“They’re out there in thousands, free.” Killers, that is. The old police saying turns out to be true: if a murder isn’t solved within the first 72 hours, it starts getting as cold as the body, colder and colder until it becomes a cold case. But the statute of limitations doesn’t apply to homicides, so many city police forces have a unit to deal with these never-closed cases. Horn spent time with New York City’s Cold Case and Apprehension Squad and reports back here, in a gritty tone that well suits the subject matter. (“The wretched killing the wretched, the case goes ‘cold,’ who gives a fuck?”) She covers the history of the unit and four gruesome cold murders under investigation, doing a fine job of painting the scene. It’s a given that these are difficult jobs; members of the squad are handpicked for their special strengths, and Horn makes manifest the patience, intelligence and imagination they must bring to bear. She also unblinkingly portrays many of the Cold Case cops as lone wolves, black sheep or talented misfits. Without bogging down the story, Horn provides explanatory detail about everything from gathering evidence and evaluating witnesses to making use of forensic work. She shows how the detectives learn to build relationships with suspects during interrogation and to be articulate on the stand. In the process, she fills us in on the hairy world of intramural police politics. The Cold Case Squad steps on many territorial toes, from station house to One Police Plaza, which sometimes seems as scary as the dark streets of a bad neighborhood. For all the hope these profiled detectives inspire, the reality is that “most cold cases are never solved.” After all that has been said and done in these pages, the comment is like a glass of cold water thrown into the reader’s face.
A choice piece of police-procedural writing.