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Tuesday, 8 July 2014
‘Killer Ambition’ by Marcia Clark
I knew the American legal system, especially in criminal cases, differed from the British equivalent, but until I read Killer Ambition, I hadn’t realized quite how much. In fact, it’s so different that this book offers two for the price of one: a gripping procedural murder mystery in the first half, and an equally riveting courtroom drama in the second. The first major difference is that in the US the post of District Attorney is subject to election, and the day-to-day work of prosecuting criminals is done by a team of deputy district attorneys, who are not only trained lawyers but also civil servants.
The setting of Killer Ambition is Hollywood, which adds a whole other dimension. The first murder victim is the daughter of a major player in the movie industry, which means huge press involvement: something else which wouldn’t be allowed to happen this side of the pond.So the book was a learning process, though it never felt that way.
The story, in a nutshell, is this: deputy district attorney Rachel Knight and detective Bailey Keller, who happens to be her best friend, are called in when sixteen-year-old girl is kidnapped and not released as promised after the ransom is paid. Rachel and Bailey investigate (yet another difference: lawyers are almost as involved in the investigation as the police), and after a couple of days the girl’s body is found in a car boot. The hunt is on, not for a kidnapper but now for a murderer.
Eventually they identify and arrest him, after another body closely connected to the case is uncovered following a cloudburst and landslip. The trial begins, and the onus is on Rachel to prove her suspect’s guilt against all the odds. The might and money of Hollywood are against her; so is the press; and finally a defence lawyer she describes as a barracuda, who uses barely legitimate tactics to destroy the prosecution’s case piece by piece.
That Marcia Clark is a writer to be reckoned with is evident from the start. Crafting a page-turning plot is clearly second nature to her; the pace and tension never let up for a moment. Hollywood’s brittle glamour, and how it corrupts and damages people, is shown in all its tawdry glory. Rachel the protagonist is someone you want to root for: smart-mouthed, determined, feisty, with a streak of vulnerability. Every other character is sharply drawn and well rounded too; I especially liked Drew the barman, and Declan, the inexperienced junior lawyer who is brought in to spy on Rachel, but actually becomes one of her closest allies.
There’s also an ongoing backstory which will surely be explored in future episodes in the series, of which this book is the third. The earlier two are already on my to-read list, and I’ll certainly be looking out for more from Marcia Clark.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Marcia Clark began practicing law as a criminal defense attorney. She became a prosecutor in the L.A. District Attorney's Office in 1981, and spent ten years in the Special Trials Unit where she handled a number of high profile cases prior to the O.J. Simpson case, including the prosecution of stalker/murderer Robert Bardo, whose conviction for the murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer resulted in legislation that offered victims better protection from stalkers as well as increased punishment for the offenders. Since the Simpson trial, Ms. Clark has toured the U.S. and Canada giving lectures on a variety of women's issues including domestic violence and inspirational/motivational speeches, as well as lectures on the latest high profile cases, public service careers, and of course, the Trial of the Century. In May of 1997, her book on the Simpson case, Without a Doubt was published and quickly rose to #1 on the New York Times, Wall St. Journal, Washington Post, LA Times, and Publisher's Weekly bestsellers lists. Marcia Clark (with writing partner, Catherine LePard) has sold hour-long pilots to the FX network, Lifetime, and VH1 and developed a half hour comedy for NBC. She has also developed reality projects for CBS and was an executive producer of a one hour reality pilot for CBS.
Joanna Leigh studied French and German at university. She works in the aerospace industry and is a chartered marketer in the UK. She describes herself as a voracious reader, enjoying genres as varied as crime thrillers, historical fiction and autobiographies. Joanna lives in London. She is the daughter of crime thriller writer Leigh Russell.