Author: Marcia Clark
Title: Guilt By Association
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Hardback: 356 pages
Publication Date: 12/05/2011
It seems that there are some lawyer stereotypes that even a former Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney can’t avoid – namely that lawyers can’t resist chasing an ambulance. Actually, in Marcia Clark’s debut crime novel, Guilt By Association, it is not an ambulance but a fire engine that her central protagonist, Deputy District Attorney Rachel Knight, follows.
This ‘inquisitiveness’ [to phrase it kindly!] leads Rachel to a dilapidated hotel, one that is the scene for an apparent murder-suicide. The murder victim is a seventeen-year-old male prostitute that Rachel doesn’t recognise, but the murderer is someone she knows all to well – it’s her friend and fellow Deputy District Attorney, Jake Pahlmeyer.
Except that, as soon becomes apparent, Rachel actually knew nothing about Jake outside of the work place. What was he doing at the hotel? And was he a paedophile? Rachel doesn’t believe it, or the LAPD’s assertion that it was a murder-suicide. So, like any good crime fiction protagonist worth their salt, Rachel begins her own private investigation – in the process flouting the wishes of her superiors [who have warned her off the case]. But, when she becomes the focus for an escalating campaign of violence and intimidation, she quickly realises that she has stumbled into something much darker and more sinister than she had first suspected …
Luckily for her – and for us – Rachel isn’t the type of person to be cowed by threats [she does, after all, carry a .357 Smith & Wesson in her handbag!]. And this is part of what makes her such an engaging and great heroine. Yes, she has a few foibles – including her slightly repetitive habit of listing everything that she is wearing – and she may not have the motor-mouthed charm of Michael Connelly’s LA-based attorney Mickey Haller, but she is witty, feisty, occasionally foul-mouthed and often compassionate [hmmm. Compassion. Is she really a lawyer?!]. I’m not normally a massive fan of first-person narratives, but in Guilt By Association it works incredibly well because Rachel is such a strong and individual character.
This is undoubtedly the result of Clark’s authorial ability, and her fast, compact and witty prose perfectly suits Rachel. But the novel is also characterised by its nuanced feeling of authenticity and the manner in which Clark is able to bring her experience and knowledge of LA and the US criminal justice system to bear upon the page. And with its skilful plotting, razor-sharp dialogue and cast of well-drawn characters Guilt By Association is a great page-turner of a debut crime novel, with a jewel of a central protagonist in Rachel Knight. I cannot wait to see more of her in future novels.