This unclassifiable hybrid of harsh autobiography and hard reporting opens with an alienated Barry Graham arriving in Phoenix, Arizona, from his native Scotland in 1995. Plunging into chaotic relationships and empty sexual encounters, he also witnesses two executions and investigates Joe Arpaio, the corrupt and brutal Sheriff of Maricopa County. He investigates the deaths of unarmed young Latino men at the guns of cops, rides along with the Phoenix Gang Enforcement Unit, reports on the criminal trial of Governor Fife Symington, visits and revisits the city's ghosts and legends, and finds refuge and healing in writing and in the practice of Zen.
Graham has staked out the Southwest as his territory, and written about it in a way that no one else has. His is not the Southwest of scenic natural wonders, petroglyphs and ancient Indian civilizations juxtaposed with modern spiritual seekers. His is the Southwest as gritty emblem of 21st Century America, of urban blight and the dispossessed, of the people left behind.
Why I Watch People Die is a report from the edge, a beautiful and terrifying portrait of a civilization in collapse, and a man's relationship to a desolate city that both repels and compels him.