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Book Review: Killer Ambition by Marcia Clark

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews by clicking on the Books category link on the far right side bar.

9780316220941_p0_v2_s260x420Marcia Clark’s latest book, Killer Ambition, is an informative novel about the duties of a Los Angeles prosecutor, specifically one that works in the Special Trials Unit.  This book intertwines investigative work with courtroom drama.  Clark seems to know something about high profile crimes and trials since people should remember her as the lead prosecutor on the O.J. Simpson case.

The plot takes off from the very beginning when the daughter of a Hollywood director is found murdered.  At first it appears to be a kidnapping gone wrong but through riveting investigative work prosecutor Rachel Knight and Detective Bailey Keller find that a powerful Hollywood player was at the center of the killing.  The Hollywood media machine declares an all out war to discredit Knight and her case, through trying the case outside the courtroom, and publicizing facts about her private life, mainly by implying she is a fame-seeker. 

Clark told, “In all my books I try to show the world of the prosecutor, whether it’s in the courtroom or out in the field.  In my case the connection between my books and my life experience is obvious.  I was a deputy district attorney for fourteen years, spending ten of them in the Special Trials Unit.  I wanted to show how the prosecutor and the detective work very closely together.  In Killer Ambition, I decided to take the reader through the entire process of a high profile trial, from the first report, to the investigation, to the arrest, and then the trial.”

The book is very informative in that it allows the reader to be a hidden bystander.  They are able to get into the minds, personalities, and strategies of everyone involved in a trial murder case.  In fact, this book allows the reader to follow Rachel Knight to get a glimpse of what it is like in the day of the life of a special prosecutor. 

Because of her previous experience, Clark told, she is able to draw upon “some kernel of truth and then weave from there.  For example, I knew of a case in which a woman was charged with having hired someone to kill her husband.  Though the prosecution did a good job, she was acquitted.  I got to wonder what her life would be like after having been accused of murder.  That led me to my second novel, Guilt by Degrees, which featured a female villain.”

Yet, as a prosecutor she also knows what it is like to try high profile cases.  In Killer Ambition she shows how the press can be too influential.  Clark noted, “Judges and lawyers behave differently when there’s a camera in the courtroom. It is all about the spotlight, including for some witnesses.”

There are also numerous scenes that show trial tactics and how during a trial the lawyers must, at times, think quickly on their feet, almost like a chess match where each move has a consequence.  Clark skillfully shows how trial work requires quick thinking and “the ability to roll with the punches.  You have to do your best to anticipate what might go wrong and what the other side will do.  Trials are roller coaster rides.”

Although Killer Ambition was more plot driven than character driven, there are still scenes that show the interaction between characters. Rachel Knight and her supporting cast, Robbery Homicide Detective Bailey Keller, a fellow prosecutor, Toni LaCollette, Lieutenant Graden Hales, and newcomer Declan Shackner are shown to be connected through work; yet, have a camaraderie and friendship that include many humorous and sarcastic communications. As Clark states, “I personally like to see and read stories that involve buddies who work and play together.”

Personally, Clark has another job which none of her characters have as yet, that of being a working single mother, first as a prosecutor and now as a writer. She noted, ‘There is enormous joy in having children and there is great satisfaction in doing a job you love.  The hard part is finding the balance.  There are often days when you feel as though you run from one end to another to try and fit it all in.  It can never work out perfectly.  You just do the best you can.”

In the case of Killer Ambition she did her best.  Of the three novels, this is by far her finest.  It is an all too real portrayal of both the investigative and trial work of a Special Units prosecutor.  This is a must read for anyone who enjoys legal thrillers.