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Monday, May 9, 2016


5 stars out of 5

Like many folks, I was glued to the TV set during the infamous police chase and subsequent capture and trial of former NFL star O.J. Simpson, charged with the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and waiter Ronald Goldman. The trial was riveting, and it was especially interesting to me to watch the teams of attorneys on both sides in action. The lead prosecutor was Marcia Clark from the Los Angeles District Attorney's office. She impressed me - maybe in part because I'd never before seen a female prosecutor in such a high-profile, high-stakes trial - and when the glove came off, so to speak, I suppose I even felt more than a little sympathetic (in case there's a living soul out there who doesn't know, O.J. was acquitted). Later, when I found out she'd turned to fiction writing, I told myself that one day I'd give one of her books a try.

But life intervened, the multi-hundred page Harry Potter books hit the stores and my good intentions went by the boards. Apparently, though, somebody up there likes me; out of the blue, the publisher of this book - Clark's most recent and the first in a series featuring rather hard-boiled criminal defense attorney Samantha Brinkman - offered me a copy in exchange for an unbiased review. That was, of course, an offer I couldn't refuse.

And guess what? I'm impressed all over again. I admit to favoring mysteries and thrillers with a legal flavor - every so often I even drag out one of Erle Stanley Gardner's classic Perry Mason books to reread, for goodness sake - but I never fail to cross my fingers when I find one by a new-to-me author. This time, I'd uncrossed them by the end of the first handful of chapters; no worries here - I was hooked.

At the beginning, Samantha's tiny firm (consisting of Sam, her longtime friend Michelle and ex-con and hacker Alex), is hired to defend a veteran LAPD detective who's charged with the murder of two young women - one of whom is a popular TV star. If she's successful (and maybe even if she isn't), it's a case almost guaranteed to grab the media's attention and catapult Sam and her firm to the criminal defense elite. 

As might be expected, though, there's many a slip between the cup and the lip; one particularly noteworthy piece of news, in fact, almost derails the whole case (and certainly makes it harder for Samantha to do her job effectively and objectively). But do it she does - with her usual fools-rush-in overlooking of the "rules" when it suits her purpose - and there are more than a few other twists as the drama shifts from the courtroom to out-of-the-office sleuthing (the latter of which put the lives of Samantha and her crew in danger). 

My favorite parts, though, happened in the courtroom; I've always been intrigued by legal strategy, be it how to "work" the media, craft meaningful opening arguments or pick the best possible jurors during voir dire. There's no shortage of that here, and I loved it; take, for instance, Samantha's instructions to her client not to laugh, smile or frown anywhere near the jury no matter what. "No innocent man on trial for murder laughs," she tells him. "At anything."

In the end, I'm delighted to award this book 5 stars; reading it was time well spent  Not only am I eager to read the next installment of this series, I've already looked into getting my hands on her Rachel Knight books. 

Blood Defense by Marcia Clark (Thomas & Mercer, May 2016); 400 pp.

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