Book review: Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark


Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark
Mulholland, 2011.
Rachel Knight of the DA’s office in LA is a hard-working, wisecracking lawyer, who drinks far too much and whose diet consists of egg-white omelettes and steamed vegetables as she’s always watching her weight. As the book opens, Rachel’s close colleague Jake is found dead in an apparent murder-suicide in a seedy dive. Shocked and upset, Rachel, her friend Toni and their other colleagues are assigned Jake’s caseload. One of the cases Rachel is given concerns the rape of Susan, the 16-year-old daughter of awesomely rich paediatrician and campaign contributor Frank Densmore.
The book follows Rachel’s investigation into these two cases, aided by police detective Bailey. Events proceed at a blistering pace, as Rachel bonds with Susan, refuses to accept Densmore’s insistence that a young man being tutored by Susan was responsible for the rape, and together with Bailey tracks down every possible lead among the nannies, house painters, security guards and gardeners of the exclusive gated community.
At the same time, Rachel refuses to keep out of the FBI investigation of her colleague Jake’s death. Realising that Jake is likely to be portrayed as a criminal, she tries to find out as much as she can about his life – which proves hard. Gradually, her belief in Jake begins to waver as the evidence stacks up.
Seasoned readers of crime fiction might wonder at the get-go whether the two cases will turn out to be related. I shan’t reveal the answer here, but will say that it is 300 pages in before you’ll find out for sure. In the meantime, Rachel, Bailey and Toni have been to numerous name-checked restaurants and bars; Rachel has been shot at and had her car trashed; and we learn of Rachel’s and Toni’s various romantic ups and downs. Rachel is a pleasant protagonist in her sympathy with the witnesses and suspects she visits who live in the dregs of the city or who are in prison. She’s also kind to Susan, and helps the girl to rediscover her strength after her ordeal, despite her overbearing father. The character of Rachel is not sufficiently rounded, though – there are a lot of parts but it might take another book or two for them to gel. The same goes for her friends Bailey and Toni.
Even so, I really enjoyed this novel, partly because of its apparently authentically depicted world of lawyers, gangbangers, police officers, barmen and lifestyles of the rich and poor alike; and partly because of its total absence of longueurs. The ending is somewhat hasty and slightly unsatisfying, but on the whole I can recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good investigative plot. Although Rachel is a lawyer and spends plenty of time working through her caseload, the book isn’t really a legal story (as I had assumed) – there are no courtroom scenes or legal minutiae for example – but it’s an energetic, realistic-seeming account of two crimes and the methods by which they are investigated and solved – as well as providing some hard-hitting depictions of the difference between the haves and have-nots (or have-negatives) in LA.

Since reading this book, which was a kind gift of Karen of Euro Crime, I realise that it is quite notorious as the debut novel by one of the prosecutors in an O J Simpson trial, and is the first title to be published by Mulholland Books, an imprint of Little, Brown. The large publicity budget no doubt accounts for the many Internet reviews of the novel, of which I shall link to a small selection: Hersilia Press; Roundtable reviews; Crime and Publishing; Jen’s Book Thoughts; Kittling:books; and The Independent (Ireland). You can read an interview with the author at Material Witness blog. You can read the prologue and the first two chapters via the publisher’s website.