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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