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.

13 thoughts on “Book review: Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark

  1. Maxine – Thanks, as ever, for a thoughtful and well-written review. I confess I haven’t read this one and part of the reason is that I remembered Marcia Clark from the Simpson trial and tend to shy away a bit from books written by celebrities (with some exceptions). But this one sounds like a good read, and I’ll probably give it a go.

  2. Thanks, Margot- I think I would not have read it either had I realised it was by a celebrity – but as she isn’t one over here, I’d never heard of her so agreed to give the book a go as I like legal thrillers. On this basis, I was pleasantly surprised. Actually it was a more enjoyable read than the previous two novels I read by established authors. Almost as good as your books in fact ;-).

  3. glad you enjoyed it and thanks for reviewing it because I was curious about her book by someone I trust who have read it but I still can’t bring myself to read a book by a celebrity.

    • me neither, Keishon, I am so out of all the loops that I had no idea she was one. Bit like when OJ was first picked up/charged, all the Americans in the office were all agog (it’s a very serious office usually) but I had never even heard of him.

  4. A good review as always but am still not tempted, I have been unfortunate enough to see this woman ‘commentating’ during trips to the US and found her excruciating.

  5. It sounds like an interesting book and I like legal mysteries, but I concur about this author. Not a favorite on tv or otherwise. So I’ll pass and stick with other known authors of legal thrillers, and will try a new one I just heard of by Andrew Mintzer, I think. I hope for snappy courtroom dialogue.

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  7. Quite true, Maxine. Clark, a complicated woman with a very messy life, was the lead prosecutor in the Simpson case, and has since become an expert ‘special correspondent’ or whatever all over the tv screen like a cheap suit. Chris Darden, the prosecutor who orchestrated the disastrous glove incident has gone the same route, and he’s written a thriller, The Last Defense, with Dick Lochte, whoever he may be. Mark Fuhrman, the racist cop who was destroyed on the stand by Lee Bailey, write best-selling true crime books. This is Fuhrman who once lost a day’s pay for arresting a black man for jaywalking by putting him in a chokehold, which nearly killed him, while shouting that kill him was what he planned to do. All this in front of long queue in front of a cinema. Judge Ito, who allowed his courtroom to become a freak show, still judges and is regarded as an expert on foreign-language interpretation of testimony, despite the fact that he is fluent in not one foreign language. The lesson here, of course, is that it pays big to be a complete screw-up.

    • Thanks, Philip. I wouldn’t have read it had I realised it is by a celeb (this is why I don;’t read novels by, eg, Stella Rimmington), but it was inadvertently sent in to Euro Crime (despite that site not being for US books) and as I like legal novels……but thanks for the background. Scott Turow, R North Patterson and John Grisham are off the boil now (so far as I am concerned) and Philip Margolin has switched from legal to political thrillers, so I am a bit stuck.

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