Marcia Clark first became nationally known in 1991 as the lead prosecutor in O.J. Simpson's murder trial. She has followed that up with a career as a legal commentator on various broadcast and cable channels (weighing in recently on the George Zimmerman case) — and as a novelist.
Killer Ambition is the third book in her series of legal thrillers about Los Angeles prosecutor Rachel Knight, and Clark puts her experience as a prosecutor in Los Angeles to effective use in this juicy, fast-paced tale of murder and vengeance in Hollywood.
Knight has the same job Clark once held, as a prosecutor in the Special Trials unit, which handles high-profile cases — and that's just what the apparent kidnapping of Hayley Antonovich looks like. Hayley is the pretty 16-year-old daughter of Russell Antonovich, one of the biggest movie directors in Hollywood. Hayley is a bit of a party girl but, everyone agrees, a sweet kid, and her father jumps to pay the million-dollar ransom (he just happens to keep that much money around the house), calling in the police only when his daughter remains missing.
Knight is in on the investigation from the start with her close friend Bailey Keller, a detective in the Robbery-Homicide unit who's as hard-charging as Knight herself. The two women question Russell, who has a bad case of short-man syndrome, and his manager, former child actor Ian Powers, who points out that a director as powerful as Russell has "thousands" of enemies: "It's a town full of narcissists and sociopaths. You do the math."
They talk to Hayley's two best friends, a mismatched pair of sad sacks: Mackenzie Struthers, the "poor girl" on scholarship at Hayley's ritzy private school, and Brittany Caren, a drug-addled young actor with a fierce stage mother and a passing resemblance to Lindsay Lohan. Mackenzie points them toward Hayley's new boyfriend, Brian Shandling — who turns out to have a different last name and a connection to someone who might have wanted revenge on Russell.
At first Knight and Keller think Hayley might have been in on her own kidnapping — but then her body turns up, and everything changes. The evidence points to someone in Russell's inner circle, someone he throws the considerable weight of his influence behind despite his daughter's murder. Knight finds herself facing a take-no-prisoners defense attorney in a trial that has even more twists that the investigation did.
Knight is an engaging character, sharp, funny and self-deprecating. Clark gives her some quirks — she's a Luddite when it comes to computers, and she lives in a hotel room at the Biltmore: "Poor, poor me, having to 'wait' for room service. I admit that sometimes I even make myself gag." But she also has a personal tragedy in her past that resonates with Hayley's case: When she was a girl, her younger sister was abducted and never found.
Although Clark knowledgeably depicts the investigation and forensics as well as the trial, Killer Ambition never bogs down. Knight's banter with Keller and her other friends around the courthouse and cop shop has the ring of authenticity, and Clark is wryly funny about how being involved with a show-biz trial can be both blessing and curse — although fans of legal thrillers get the benefits with this novel.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435.