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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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As a member of the elite Special Trials division, Los Angeles DA Rachel Knight was accustomed to investigating and prosecuting high profile cases. When a close associate and fellow prosecutor within their division is found dead, she simply cannot believe that the obvious explanation of a murder/suicide is accurate. Convinced that Jake was not a pedophile, did not commit suicide or murder, with the help of her friend Detective Bailey Keller, Rachel risks her job and her life to covertly find the answer to Jake's death.
Though Rachel would like to fully devote her time to finding Jake's killer, her job as DA continued. She is assigned one of his cases, the rape of Susan Densmore--the teenaged daughter of an extremely successful and wealthy doctor with strategic connections within the DA's office. As she investigates Susan's case, the threats against her life become very real as does the increasing danger of her secret probe into Jake's death. In an intelligent and highly enjoyable thriller, Guilt By Association features a sharp female lead character with a witty, sarcastic charm who makes this story leap off the pages.
Covers rarely catch my attention, but big kudos to the cover art designers at Mulholland Books. I'm not a huge fan of a character on the cover, but they really nailed it this time. I love the necklace with the gun charm. It helped set the tone of the book and enhanced Rachel's character. Great job!
Now on to the book. Since I read a lot of action, thriller, somewhat violent, type novels, the majority of the lead characters are men. As a result I usually struggle with strong female lead characters. Too many times they feel like men dressed up as women or powder puffs trying to act macho. However, on occasion I come across a female character that feels authentic and it always brings a smile to my face. While Rachel has a strong degree of femininity, her hard edge and gun toting ways feel natural. She's intelligent, witty, and fun to follow, but she's also a tough, tenacious, no-nonsense prosecutor. Both sides are beautifully balanced to create a fantastic character that will most likely be just as enjoyable for men to follow as women.
In addition to a great lead character is a brilliant insider view of LA. Clark's intimate knowledge of the city adds depth to the story with smooth transitions between settings and locations. Equally impressive is her crafting of the legal and criminal aspects and the integration of them into the setting. With the characters comfortable in their surroundings and highly competent in their jobs, Guilt By Association flows smoothly at a pace that keeps the reader engaged as the events unfold.
For a debut novel, I have few complaints. I really would have liked more backstory for Kit, the teenager killed with Jake. My heart ached for him and other kids who have lived the life he had. While a former foster mom helped to add the appropriate emotion to his difficult life, I wanted a better fate for him and more than small snippets of how he ended up dead in a cheap motel. It also would have been nice to deeper explore some of the themes that stemmed from his life.
I was expecting primarily a legal drama, but most of the time is spent investigating Jake's death and the rape case. While I would have been good with a story that mainly focused on prosecuting a criminal, I really liked what Clark did with this one. It is pure entertainment and out and out fun. It's got a fantastic sense of humor to offset the more serious investigation of brutal crimes along with a wonderful touch of compassion. Guilt By Association is a great book, fun to read and reflective of Clark's enthusiasm, passion, and love for the story she's created.
Note for sensitive readers: This is a general market book. The opening pages let the reader know to anticipate some language, especially from the main character. While there is a moderate amount of language, it's really not that bad. With the exception of the rape, there is little sexual content, though main topics include child pornography and teenage male prostitution. All are tactfully handled and well within reason.
Review title provided courtesy of Mulholland Books