Book Review by Heidi Simmons
Guilt by Association
Guilt by Degrees
By Marcia Clark
Does the name Marcia Clark ring a bell? Today, she may be better known for her cable appearances as a legal commentator. She has voiced opinions on the high profile cases of Trayvon Martin and Casey Anthony. Why is she qualified to comment on these outrages and horrible crimes? Because, 18 years ago, Marcia Clark was front and center as lead prosecutor of the televised double homicide of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Orenthal James (OJ) Simpson, Nicole Brown’s ex-husband, famous football star, charming television actor and commercial spokesman, was on trial as their accused killer.
Clark, starting her book tour, spoke recently at the Rancho Mirage Public Library. In 1997, Clark and co-author Teresa Carpenter, wrote Without a Doubt a book about the trial. It was on the New York Times Bestseller List for eight weeks. According to Clark, there have been 296 books published on the OJ trial.
But Clark was in Rancho Mirage to promote her fictional book: Guilt by Degrees (Mulholland Books, 448 Pages) released this month. It follows Guilt by Association (Mulholland Books, 356 pages) her first in the series released April 2011.
The main character is Rachel Knight, an eccentric, alcoholic and weight conscious prosecutor who works as a Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney obsessively dedicated to her job and tormented by the death of her sister. Knight is part of the District Attorney’s elite “Special Trials Unit” that focuses on high profile, complex and complicated homicide cases.
“Is the Rachel character Marcia Clark?” is a frequently asked question. Clark, whose middle name is Rachel, same spelling, and who of course worked in the LA District Attorney’s Office as a Special Trials Unit lawyer, says the best parts of her are in Knight’s character, though, she adds, not all her flaws are like Knight’s. However, she does say other characters in the series are very close to those she’s worked with while a civil servant in Los Angeles.
“I was always addicted to mystery murders,” said Clark. “I was reading Nancy Drew at age six.” Later, she graduated to James Ellroy, and was amazed at his ability to write about crime and serial killers. As a prosecutor, Clark herself is fascinated by the mind of a killer. Although, she admits, they can be really stupid.
Attorneys do a lot of writing in their work, but Clark never thought of herself as a “writer.” After the infamous OJ trial, Clark was asked to develop stories for the Lifetime Network. Writing scripts gave her the confidence to try a novel.
This new-found confidence merged with her knowledge as a prosecutor. The old adage, “Write what you know” is what makes Clark’s books so involving. She gives the reader a new perspective on how crime investigation is handled by the DA. Her Rachel character is a special prosecutor who must work closely with the police investigators and coroner, just as Clark did. Through her fictional characters, Clark shares the challenges a DA has of constructing a narrative and collecting the supporting evidence to build a strong, solid case.
She also brings to the pages familiar, true crimes that did not receive justice in the courtroom or went unresolved. “Sometimes there’s a kernel that really got me tweaked,” Clark said, annoyed at how the system can be manipulated. Her fiction is a way to bring light and closure to some cases where she personally felt justice was not served. Clark felt her job as a prosecutor was a mission — it was doing something for the larger good.
Where as Clark could not control the outcome of her cases in real life, Rachel Knight can. Clark is enthusiastic and giddy about her character and the actual writing of the series. Her third novel, Guilt by Ambition is already in the works.
Though Clark often needlessly over-writes, she adeptly keeps the plot moving through welcome short chapters. Her use of the Los Angeles landscape and landmarks gives it an authentic intimacy.
According to Clark, far more time is spent investigating the crime, than time spent at trial. So, just as in real life, Rachel Knight does not finish her story in the courtroom. The “Guilt By” series is about mystery and investigation from an insider point of view in the DA’s office. It is not merely courtroom drama, neither is it filled with legal detail.
After her talk to a full house, Clark took questions. It was obvious people are still not satisfied with the outcome of the OJ trial. She was asked about the glove, challenged by conspiracy theorists and then semi-denied an affair with Christopher Darden, her co prosecutor.
Once again, Marcia Clark is back on TV, this time with a camera-ready, youthful face. She is far more comfortable and media savvy than in 1994. Though she failed to get a conviction of OJ Simpson, her career has not suffered. She no longer practices law in a courtroom but instead fights for the larger good on her pages of fiction. At least there, Rachel Knight can get her man.