Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Another win for Marcia Clark

Guilt by Association
by Marcia Clark

After having previously written about her life and role as chief prosecutor on the O.J. Simpson trial, former Assistant District Attorney Marcia Clark has turned her hand to fiction. And multiple starred reviews in the publishing trades attest that she hasn’t done a half-bad job of it.

After a brief prologue, Guilt by Association opens with colleagues toasting a legal victory at the end of the workday. The victor is ADA Rachel Knight, who was just handed a guilty verdict in record time. The wins are why she and her colleagues put in the long hours, and no one is a bigger workaholic than Rachel, except perhaps for Jake. When Jake and Toni head out for the night, Rachel promises she’ll follow just as soon as she gets a little more work done... And, after all, home is only a six-block walk from the office. Once outside she hears sirens and quickly comes across an unfolding crime scene—a homicide by the looks of it. She’s waiting around out of professional curiosity when a ranking cop tries to send her packing. Rachel is confounded and annoyed—until she sees the face of one of the two victims. It’s Jake; hard-working, nice guy Jake.

The next morning, the news gets worse. The crime appears to be a murder-suicide. Jake was in a sleazy motel room with a 17-year-old boy, who he appears to have shot before then shooting himself. There was a naked photo of the kid in his pocket. Hung-over and still in shock, Rachel doesn’t believe it. The facts are damning, and even though no one really knew about his personal life, she just knows Jake can’t have done what they’re saying. Unfortunately, she’s warned off Jake’s case in no uncertain terms. Rather, she’s asked to take over one of the cases that Jake had been working on, that of the rape of affluent 15-year-old Susan Densmore. Rachel, with the help of her detective friend Bailey and a host of other allies, launches herself into both cases, constantly fearing she’s about to be fired for insubordination. “I took another sip of my drink and pondered what I could do on my own. Being a prosecutor, I was not, as they say, without resources.” True that.

It’s a strong debut, no doubt. Right from the opening, you just can’t help thinking as you read, “Wow, this woman really knows what she’s writing about!” So much of the novel has the ring of verisimilitude. It may be the greatest strength. Even so, this novel really wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s been described as a legal thriller, but truthfully, it was far more a police procedural. There wasn’t a single scene in a courtroom. Rather, Rachel was frequently out in the field, partnering Bailey, gun literally in hand, as they investigated the cases. She’s not a lawyer content to sit behind a desk while the cops do their job, and I have to wonder how realistic the depiction is. It’s not that it was unbelievable, but it was surprising. Either way, it’s fiction, and I was willing to go along for the ride.

Rachel Knight is a strong, likable protagonist. Ms. Clark has imbued her with enough idiosyncratic detail that she, too, has the ring of verisimilitude. For instance, Rachel’s obsessed with every calorie she puts in her mouth, unless it’s in an alcoholic beverage or eaten off someone else’s plate. While this is a stand alone novel, it’s easy to image that Rachel and the various supporting characters may be back in future novels. If so, Guilt by Association serves as a good introduction. The novel is not perfect. There were times when Clark told instead of showing. Another time Rachel took an unbelievably stupid risk. And the plot did suffer one big fictional cliché, but I can’t mention it without spoilers. Still, those are relatively minor complaints.

Clark keeps things moving along briskly, and while the pace never lags, about midway through things really pick up and stay up straight through the novel’s end. It’s a nice, tight, coherent plot with plenty of surprises and a satisfying conclusion. Looks like you’ve racked up another win, Ms. Clark.

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