Sheldon's Reviews > Guilt by Association

Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark
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's review
Jun 11, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: first-reads, mystery, own
Read from February 26 to June 11, 2011

Guilt by Association is a mystery novel by Marcia Clark, the lead prosecutor on the O.J. Simpson murder trial back in the '90s. The lead character, Rachel Knight, is a Los Angeles DA whose friend and colleague, Jake, is found dead in an apparent murder-suicide. While investigating this case, which she is warned to stay away from as it's supposed to be a federal case, she is also assigned one of Jake's unfinished cases, the rape of a teenage girl in the Pacific Palisades.

The novel takes the usual twists and turns that one would expect from a novel in the mystery genre, which I guess are now commonly referred to as “thrillers.” I really wanted to like Clark's debut effort into fiction more than I did, but there were just too many problems with it that stuck out. I can break this down by an analysis of the two most important elements for a mystery novel: plot and character. Yes, these tend to be very important in most novels, but let me go into detail as to why these stick out so much.

First, the plot. The plot in Guilt by Association is actually very well written and thought-out. I enjoyed most of the aforementioned twists and turns, and it's generally well structured and has a good pace to it. Plot is important to a mystery novel because it provides, well, the mystery. And Clark does a good job with it and shows a strong talent in this area. However, that's not to say that it's perfect. There are some slow parts to novel, mostly having to do with some dragged out descriptions. Also, close the end, the plot threads take an unbelievable, and in my opinion rather ridiculous, turn that made me slap my head not over the reveal but more out of frustration at the lack of plausibility. For an author who is going to great pains to be sure that we know this novel is set in the real Los Angeles, this made things seem suddenly unreal. The romantic side plot doesn't really seem to go anywhere, but I'm guesing that's something that would be picked up in later books, assuming this novel is intended to be the first in a series.

The second important element mentioned above is the characters. Characters in mystery novel reveal a lot about themselves, difference, “tells,” and make you care about them or identify with them as they go through the mystery. Mysteries tend to be heavily character-driven as the investigator (and the reader along with them) interviews them to determine the truth and whether anyone is lying. And this was where Guilt by Association falls flat on its face. I know that some people would like the spunkiness of the characters and what I could only describe as an attempt an Whedonesque dialogue (think “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “Firefly/Serenity”), but they instead came off as annoying. Combined with how most of the characters, primarily those working in law enforcement, come off as complete bad-asses in their jobs, and it winds up making the reader want to put some distance between themselves and the characters rather than draw them in and want to solve the mystery with them. I don't think I could stand another description of Rachel complaining about her healthy eating while being horribly tempted by the tastier food being ordered by the people she's with.

In addition, some of the descriptions can be long-winded. Yes, Los Angeles has bad traffic problems, but I think that anyone who doesn't live here already has a basic knowledge of that and isn't going to care, and those of us who do live here already have to deal with it and don't want to read about it. While it was interesting reading about some places I've been to and frequented around Los Angeles, at times it also feels unnecessary and gets in the way of the pacing.

Guilt by Association gets two out of five stars, meaning literally “it's okay.” Marcia Clark shows some talent, but this effort felt uncooked. I would be interest to see how her writing style develops in future works, and hope that she could work on the characters and the dialogue a little more to make them more believable and less irritating, especially since she clearly want to make the setting believable. But I would only recommend this novel for serious fans of the mystery/thriller genre. The rest probably won't be missing a whole lot if they skip it.

Note: This review is based on an uncorrected advanced reading copy that was provided to this reviewer for free through Goodreads First Reads.
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