By Marcia Clark
Thomas & Mercer
389 pages, $24.95
By Gene Warner
It’s tempting, oh-so tempting, to say it, so here goes.
Marcia Clark may be a better crime novelist than a prosecutor.
That’s not as much of an insult as it sounds.
People can argue the point forever, but throughout her career in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, by all accounts Marcia Clark was a skilled prosecutor. Yet she will be forever defined almost solely by her work in the O.J. Simpson mega-trial, where she was plagued by two main gaffes: putting too much trust in both legal teammate Christopher Darden and fatal witness Mark Fuhrman.
Clark writes a pretty good crime novel. She’s no John Grisham, probably not a James Patterson either, but the pages turn quickly, the plot’s not bad, and she clearly knows how to turn a phrase.
Following the four novels in her series starring Special Trials prosecutor Rachel Knight, Clark opens her new Samantha Brinkman series with “Blood Defense.” The great twist here is that Brinkman is a criminal defense attorney, not a prosecutor. This device allows Brinkman, the narrator, to blast both sides of the legal aisle.
The remarkable thing about this book, for this reviewer anyway, is that it’s hard to read without thinking frequently about the O.J. case. Maybe it’s got something to do with this fictional celebrity case featuring two people stabbed to death, one of them a popular TV star.
Clark skewers many of the Simpson-trial types and excesses, with not-so-veiled references; only the names have been changed to protect the guilty. It’s enough to make you think Clark can’t let go of that career-defining case either.
• People liked to say the trial judge was a gentleman, but Brinkman considered him a complete wuss. “When lawyers push the envelope – a near-daily occurrence – it’s up to the judge to rein them in. But Judge Tollinberg had no stomach for it. When the fur started to fly, he ducked.”
Judge Lance Ito, anyone?
• As Brinkman struggles to create reasonable doubt about double-murder suspect Dale Pearson’s guilt, the narrator writes, “It wouldn’t be enough to slam the shoddy investigation, pound the table about lazy cops or point to some vague possible straw man. I needed a real suspect.”
Sounds like some defense tactics we’ve seen before.
• And a telling observation from Brinkman while confronting a strong suspect in another woman’s killing: “When I told you (the woman) was dead, you didn’t ask me how she died. You said, ‘Who killed her?’ ”
• Brinkman even addresses the question of what she would wear to an early courtroom appearance. “The image is the message. I have to look successful, even a little flashy. Because if I look good, my client looks good – good as in ‘not a murderer.’ ”
This isn’t Clark’s first rodeo, either in the courtroom or at the keyboard. The action moves pretty quickly here, with bodies washing up on shore or found in a dumpster, all sorts of sketchy characters and even a huge personal plot twist.
Clark also has fun with Brinkman’s character, who spins all kinds of shaky theories to deflect the guilt from her client, no matter how much evidence mounts against him. As Brinkman states, her job as a defense attorney is to stitch together what few fragments of evidence she has into “a quilt that looks like reasonable doubt.”
That formula, to Clark’s eternal regret, worked pretty well for O.J.’s defense team.
The author also shows off her writing skill. A few examples: A murder scene, filled with teddy bears and candles, “that wept with love.” A real dump of a house in a crummy neighborhood, where there was “some faint evidence that the door might’ve been red at one time.” And a gorgeous woman with “blue eyes that smiled when she did.”
But two huge questions remain:
Will O.J. read this book? And if so, will he chuckle at the thought of Clark’s main character defending a man accused of stabbing two people to death?
Gene Warner is a veteran News reporter and consumer of crime novel best-sellers. email: firstname.lastname@example.org