Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Competition by Marcia Clark

Author Marcia Clark, TV correspondent and former prosecutor, manages to distinguish her crime series by the strength of her writing and by her intelligent presentation of the material: she gives her readers an undeniably authentic inside look at the search for criminals, sharing along the way terminology and methods, points of law and methods of prosecution. She leavens the work by including the taunt-slinging humor that a hard-working, hard-living law enforcement team shares while investigating major crimes.

Clark’s Rachel Knight series features a prosecutor from the office of L.A. Special Trials. In her earlier (and shorter) novels, Knight was investigating interesting crimes that plague cities. This book takes on the important subject of the psychopathy behind mass shootings, whether at schools, stores, or the cinema. Clark relies heavily on the David Cullen’s nonfiction treatment of the Columbine shooting, Columbine, so that we can see clearly the resemblances in the copycat incident she relates, but she also looks closely at the other examples we’ve endured in the recent past and shares psychologists’ view of the phenomenon.

Clark’s story has many false leads and misdirection, but what I liked best was the palpable sense of not knowing enough: though the investigators worked hard at finding clues, there was so much they simply did not know. Clark manages to make us understand the real difficulties in pursuing an investigation in cases like these, and why it takes so long to make headway (hint: it is not simply because of the fabled traffic jams in L.A.). The smog fog of confusion felt very real to me. When, towards the end of the book, Knight and her partner on this case, Detective Bailey Keller, finally get a lead that connects tiny shreds of information learned from disparate sources early in the investigations, Bailey sits back in her chair and says "Well, what do you know. An actual bona fide lead. So that’s what it feels like." And we feel that sense of discovery, awe, and relief, too.

Clark exhibits her control in a story of this size and scope. She covers a lot of ground by looking at so many major examples of mass shootings and still keeping the story alive with interactions between her characters. If I had any criticism, it would be that there were too many words, but I am not going to quibble. This is an excellent example of its genre which also serves to highlight important questions about our society and justice system.

In my review of an earlier book in the series, Guilt by Degrees, I commented that Rachel Knight seemed to have expensive tastes when it comes to eating and drinking. She still does, but I can see more clearly in this novel that Knight has time to eat only rarely and when she finally does, often late at night, she deserves every bite of those exotic meals. Hers is the kind of job that doesn’t slow or stop for normal people’s needs.
The first book in the Rachel Knight series, Guilt by Association, was a wonderful debut. Take a look if you are beginning the series for the first time.

You can buy these books here: Shop Indie Bookstores


  1. I loved reading this book. I used to watch Marcia Clark on the news during the OJ trial. I am hope to read all of her books.

    1. Marcia Clark is certainly talented in many ways--she wears her illustrious background lightly and continues to show us how important, socially-relevant fiction can be fun, too.