Thursday, June 27, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Killer Ambition by Marcia Clark

     Marcia Clark is back with her third novel featuring Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Rachel Knight, Killer Ambition. The story begins with the kidnapping of the teen-aged daughter of a wealthy and powerful Hollywood producer Russel Antonovich, and ends with the trial of the person responsible for it. On the way, it uncovers some deep secrets of Hollywood: lives bought and paid for, made and destroyed, with the promise of fame and fortune, or the threat of being cast off into nothingness with so many other wannabees and could have beens. 

     Killer Ambition is a unique combination of police procedural and legal thriller. The first part of the book takes readers through the investigation of the kidnapping. The second, through the trial of the person believed to be responsible. Each part could stand as its own novel. Instead readers get one book, told in the first person as Deputy District Attorney Rachel Knight. 
Author Marcia Clark
     Ms. Clark is in a great position to tell such a story. Her work experience as a Deputy District Attorney has provided her with access to the office that few writers or readers share. The direction of the investigation, the hurdles of the prosecution, the games of the defense, are likely very close to what happens in a Los Angeles courtroom. 

     Killer Ambition is not without a few weaknesses. One is minor, but so obvious that it really irritates me when it happens, is that Ms. Clark referred to a .44 caliber Glock handgun; such a handgun does not exist. Glock makes a 9 mm, .40 caliber, and .45 caliber. Those types of mistakes are too frequent in crime fiction, and could be so easily avoided that it deserves being called out, even though it has no bearing on the story. 
     I also thought Rachel Knight was a little too involved in the investigation portion of the story. My experience is more that the police investigate with guidance from the DA's office. In this book, Ms. Knight was involved in the investigation from the very beginning, in all aspects. A minor complaint, but it stuck out to me. 

     One of my favorite aspects of the book was that in some ways it was a David v. Goliath story. Usually in the American just system, the Goliath is the State; the prosecutor. But in this instance, it seemed the other way around. The Goliath was a rich, powerful, popular, Hollywood mogul with support from the industry, the press, and unlimited funds to spend on a defense that had no values to uphold, no goals except the acquittal of their client. Against all that, consider this dialogue between Rachel Knight and her second chair, a young DA who grew up close to Hollywood:
"We're playing the Hollywood game now, and that's a game I've watched since birth. Nothing is real--and everything is real. What's that line? 'King Kong was only four feet tall--'" 
"'But he still scared the crap out of everyone.'" 
"Only because you didn't know. Once you know, it's all over. So now you're going to show them--"  
"That (the defendant) is only four feet tall?" 
"Yes, exactly." 
     I really liked that exchange. It's so simple, real. And it's how Marcia Clark told the story. Simple and real. She built a case against the defendant brick by brick. Some bricks got knocked down by the defense, and she rebuilt them as best she could. 
     It's how a trial works; it's how life works.  

Clark, Marcia. Killer Ambition, Mulholland Books, 2013.
  • ISBN-13: 9780316220941

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Friday, June 14, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

     Best selling author Carl Hiaasen is back with Bad Monkey, another mystery set in south Florida, this one as brilliantly wacky as the others. 
     Andrew Yancy is a Detective for the Sheriff's office in Key West. He's on suspension for an unspeakable act involving a vacuum cleaner he committed against the husband of his lover when Sheriff Sonny Summers has an easy assignment for him: deliver a severed arm that was fished out of the ocean to the Miami Medical Examiners office...and don't bring it back. When the Miami ME said it didn't match any of their victims, and given that the currents would make it unlikely that any crime committed originated in or near Miami would bring the arm to the Keys, Yancy was stuck with the it. Despite orders to dispose of it, he kept it in his freezer. 
     Shortly thereafter, as part of a plea bargain for the assault which Yancy viewed as an act of chivalry, he was fired from the position of Detective and began working as roach inspector for the health department. But when the owner of the arm turned up, or at least the widow of the arm's previous owner, Yancy couldn't let it go. In part because he took his (former) job as a Detective seriously, but more because he saw it as a way to get back to work on real crime, to prove his value to the Sheriff, he started his own investigation. 

Author Carl Hiaasen
     The characters in Bad Monkey are colorful, crazy, and comical. A displaced Bahamian and his pet
monkey; a not so grief stricken widow; a beautiful Miami medical examiner who likes to try new things; a washed up drug smuggling pilot looking to relive his glory days; an oversexed voodoo Queen; two stoic FBI Agents. And of course Mr. Yancy: obsessed with the cleanliness of his food (thanks to his new occupation), finding a killer that may not exist, and in his spare time sabotaging the efforts of the monstrous vacation home being built next door, ruining his view of a perfect Florida Keys sunset. 
     True to his style, Hiaasen keeps the plot moving quickly, each twist in the story more outrageous than the last. But readers won't mind, and most will appreciate the way Bad Monkey differs from the more traditional mystery fiction novel. 
     While I enjoyed Bad Monkey, it is similar to Hiaasen's previous books. Several other books feature an amputee; many others have a sub-plot about the destruction of the natural beauty of southern Florida; and the larger than life characters are standard fare. 
     But even with that mild criticism, I always look forward to a new Hiaasen book, enjoy and empathize with his protagonists, and laugh out loud as I read. Bad Monkey was no different.  

Hiaasen, Carl, Bad Monkey. Knopf Publishing, 2013.
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307272591

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