Guilt by Degrees
Marcia Clark
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Buy *Guilt by Degrees* by Marcia Clarkonline

Guilt by Degrees
Marcia Clark
Mulholland Books
448 pages
May 2012
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Set in contemporary Los Angeles, Clark’s novel features gutsy D.A. Rachel Knight, who inhabits a city peopled with vibrant characters battling survival and loss. Featuring a series of tautly stretched loyalties and well-camouflaged villains, the story begins with Rachel struggling to find identity of a homeless man stabbed just a few blocks from where she works. Though the current special trials hotshot is set to defend the perpetrator, Ronald Yamaguchi, Rachel is unconvinced that he actually did the deed.

As Rachel works with Detective Bailey Keller in attempt to spin the sordid facts and protect a man’s reputation, she enlists Toni LaCollier, fellow denizen of the Special Trials Unit, in a thin case that threatens to “fly away." Rachel also finds herself caught up in a war with the foul-tempered brass at the Special Trials Unit (a plot element that comes across as a bit confusing), even though there’s enormous pressure on the head DA to cut the defendant loose.

Rachel and Bailey visit the LA County Men’s Prison, "a sprawling concrete monstrosity" with its mix of disinfectant, sweat and misery, in the hope of confirming that Yamaguchi is indeed telling the truth about his innocence. Regardless of who the killer is, the stabbing certainly wasn’t done to defend anyone. Soon enough, a "John Doe" case morphs into a chilling murder investigation where, other than nailing the perp, the burning question of the day is the victim’s identity.

The fact that a dead homeless guy has shown up out of nowhere with a coroner's clean photo only adds to the concept of evil hidden behind the flat, compliant faces of ordinary Angelinos. When Rachel's flame, Lt. Graden Hales, turns up to play a pivotal role (and more than delivering his handsome sexy quotient), he doesn't reckon on an enigmatic femme-fatale called Sabrina who controls events behind the scenes and spends her waking hours blackmailing a series of wealthy Washington lobbyists. The reader quickly comes to realize that Sabrina is somehow connected to Rachel’s sad and tortured past.

Although a surveillance video is unable to pick up the stabber’s face or even his body, Rachel and Bailey chase a number of clues from the stark northern tip of the San Fernando Valley to the streets of Venice, which brings them circling back to downtown Los Angeles. Each piece of the puzzle is painted layer-by-layer with the memories and feelings of loved ones along with the nausea of understanding how a single, fragile life can mean nothing in the grand scheme of money and power.

Breathing life into the streets of Los Angeles and into passionate Rachel, who knows that brutality is just a side dish on the main menu, Clark crafts a brave heroine struggling to maintain her high-profile job in the cutthroat world of big-city attorneys. In this context, Clark nails the dynamics of the district‘s law office, with its hierarchies and posturing. With a surgeon's fine skill, she also knows just when and where to place the razor, unfolding a heartbreaking account of a kind and gentle soul who was mortally wounded long before his physical death by a brother’s brutal demise and the injustice of the verdict.

Like the city in which she lives, Rachel's world is in relentless motion, her past filled with underlying themes of love and loss. Riddled with depth and edgy mood, the story embodies Chandler for the ages, Clark’s taut prose and exquisitely etched characters the perfect vehicles for ratcheting up the suspense in this well-done thriller.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

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