Saturday, July 7, 2012

Guilty Pleasure

OJ Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark’s second novel, Guilt by Degrees, follows Los Angeles Special Trials District Attorney Rachel Knight as she takes over a murder prosecution bungled by a less-qualified D.A.   Rachel soon discovers the victim is the brother of a police officer killed years before in a vicious attack, and there may be a link between the brothers’ murders and the officer’s beautiful, mysterious widow. 

Guilt is, by no means, a fine work of literature.  It is, however, at least as interesting as similar bestselling novels by authors such as Jeff Deaver, Lisa Scottoline, and Patricia Cornwell.  Rachel is an interesting heroine and Ms. Clark clearly has worked hard to ensure sufficient character development, something that plagues many novels in this genre.  Guilt concludes with a number of unanswered questions, both about the case and about Rachel herself, that are sure to be addressed in the third Rachel Knight novel on which Ms. Clark apparently is still working.      

The most interesting parts of this novel for me are the ones clearly written from Ms. Clark’s heart.  In one part, Rachel is speaking with a district attorney who lost a high-profile case.  The way in which Ms. Clark describes the effect the loss had on this D.A., who otherwise had an impeccable track record, smacks of the way Ms. Clark herself must have felt after the Simpson prosecution and all the negative press she received as a result.   Ms. Clark also works throughout the novel to portray the camaraderie and relationships between Rachel and the people with whom she works, relationships that almost certainly must be based on those Ms. Clark had with colleagues and investigators during her years as a prosecutor.   

While I recommend Guilt as an entertaining summer read, there are parts I’m not crazy about.  The pace of the book is skewed at times, particularly toward the end, where it feels a bit like Ms. Clark tries to cram 100 pages worth of story into half that space.  While the first 300-350 pages flow at a relatively constant pace, the last pages fly by at breakneck speed. 

The book also has too many superfluous storylines and details for my taste.  Much of the story takes place in various restaurants and bars where Ms. Clark describes in painstaking detail every martini, glass of wine, and meal that any character consumes.  No one loves to eat and drink more than me, but the descriptions are distracting at times.  Additionally, a number of minor characters are described in painstaking detail, only to offer some superfluous piece of information and then disappear completely, never to be heard from again.

Despite these flaws, Guilt is a fun, quick read perfect for a round-trip flight or a day at the beach—it’s a good mix of substance and brain candy.  Guilt is definitely a Guilty pleasure.    

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