Wednesday, April 20, 2011

O.J. Simpson Prosecutor Marcia Clark Wins with New Novel Guilt by Association

I was in middle school during the O.J. Simpson murder trial, but I still remember vividly the news storm that surrounded the trial and the verdict. Marcia Clark, prosecutor in the case, became a household name.

Marcia Clark's first novel, Guilt By Association, combines her extraordinary writing skills with her first-hand knowledge of the Los Angeles legal world. I often dislike celebrity attempts to jump into new careers; Clark's straight-forward prose and winning main character were pleasant surprises. In her first attempt at fiction, Clark introduces an eclectic cast of characters, each highly likable in his or her own way.

First, of course, is main character and L.A. prosecutor Rachel Knight. I have to assume Rachel is at least a somewhat autobiographical representation of Clark. Knight is a strong female DA whose independent streak puts her at odds with most members of the opposite sex. Her independence can also be a deterrent when it comes to romance.

Rachel is joined by friends Toni (a fellow DA) and Bailey (a police detective). Toni takes her job seriously, but also likes to party; this is in direct opposition to Rachel, who has a reputation as a workaholic. Now, I have to say as an aside that this is what Clark says about her -- and Rachel does take her job very seriously. However, I noticed an awful lot of "play" time, as well. (And a possible alcohol problem. But that could be a topic for another book!) Bailey is equally as hardworking and fun as Rachel. Her character works well with Rachel's; the two characters play off one another well and highlight aspects of each other's personality. The book became much more interesting with the entrance of Bailey.

In my mind I couldn't help but place Rachel and friends in Harry Bosch's world. I kept expecting her and Bailey to run into him as they investigated their case. Before Rachel chose Bailey as the investigating officer (or IO), I half-expected her to request Bosch. Then I would think -- that's Michael Connelly! Not Marcia Clark!

In addition to strong, dynamic characters, Guilt By Association also features an interesting plot (think Law & Order: SVU). I don't want to say any more about it, though, because I don't want to give even the beginning away! Clark also knocks it out of the park with the setting. It's clear from her descriptions and her casual name-dropping of hot restaurants, streets, and neighborhoods that L.A. is a city Clark knows backwards and forwards. Authentic places are peppered throughout the novel, creating a sense that Rachel Knight could actually be walking the streets of L.A. to solve crimes.

The Biltmore Hotel Bar, from Clark's website
Clark's descriptions of eateries made me want to fly directly to LAX and take a cab on a tour of food sites she mentions. For your enjoyment, I made a list. Here they are, with links to their websites (or to articles about them, if restaurant websites were unavailable):
  • Church and State: a French-style bistro, located at 1850 Industrial Street
  • the Biltmore Hotel bar: the famous hotel bar, located at 506 South Grand Avenue
  • Engine Company Number 28: a two-decade old restaurant in an old 1912 firehouse, located at 644 S. Figueroa Street
  • El Chavo: an authentic Mexican restaurant, located at 4441 Sunset Boulevard
  • Charlie O's: a jazz club, located at 13725 Victory Boulevard
  • Pacific Dining Car: a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year restaurant that has been open since 1921, located at 1310 West 6th Street
  • Pace: organic Italian food meets art, located at 2100 Laurel Canyon Boulevard
  • Oki Dog: a famous hot dog stand, located at 860 N. Fairfax Avenue
  • Canter's Deli: a 24-hour delicatessen run since 1931 by a New Jersey family, located at 419 North Fairfax Avenue

Be sure to check out Clark's website, which features a page dedicated to Rachel's LA, complete with pictures of some of the restaurants above (and more). Now I am crossing my fingers that this is the first book in a series, as I am completely unprepared to let Rachel and friends go.

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