Thu
Aug 24 2017 1:00pm

Review: Snap Judgment by Marcia Clark

Snap Judgment by Marcia Clark is the third installment in the Samantha Brinkman series, where the attorney’s investigation into a family’s deadly secrets is compromised by a threat from her past (available August 29, 2017).

Though the world at large knows Marcia Clark from her days as a prosecutor—she famously headed the ill-fated criminal case against O.J. Simpson back in the mid-90s, capping a distinguished career in the elite Special Trials Unit of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office—genre readers have come to recognize her as a fresh, fierce voice in crime fiction. While her first series paid homage to that lineage, her newest literary endeavor, the Samantha (“Sam”) Brinkman novels, is written from the other side of counsel table. Though this may come as a surprise to some, Clark began her tenure as a defense attorney and currently represents the indigent on appeal—meaning these particular books draw upon the entirety of her legal background.

Snap Judgment is the third book in the series, following 2016’s #1 Kindle bestseller Blood Defense and its sequel, Moral Defense. Once again, Sam finds herself in the midst of a polarizing case—the potential defense of fellow litigator Graham Hutchins, who is suspected of complicity in the death of his daughter’s accused killer—while also struggling to conceal some very dark secrets that threaten to destroy both her personal and professional selves.

As with its predecessor, the book presents an entirely new central crime in addition to revisiting unresolved threads from earlier; though this review is spoiler-free as pertains to Snap Judgment, readers who are new to the series should proceed with caution. 

Graham Hutchins is a desperate man. Not only has his daughter, Alicia, been found dead in the bathtub of her off-campus apartment—the victim of a vicious knife attack—but the media is having a field day exploiting the details of the tragedy. As if her demise wasn’t bad enough, Alicia had recently been the target of a revenge porn scheme in which her naked selfies were exposed to a worldwide internet audience. The pics had been meant for her ex-boyfriend’s eyes only; when they went viral following the couple’s tumultuous breakup, Alicia suspected said ex, Roan Sutton, of the betrayal. His own death subsequent is deemed a suicide, though his family strongly disputes that contention—and publicly points the finger of blame at Graham. Because who has a stronger motive for murder than the aggrieved father?

While Sam agrees to represent Graham given the possibility of criminal charges being filed (and immediately starts her own investigation into the matter aided by her trusted private investigator/hacker, Alex Medrano, and paralegal/office manager/bookkeeper/BFF, Michy Fusco), she finds herself increasingly frustrated by his inability to follow her advice. Indeed, rather than keeping a low profile, he is contributing to the media spectacle—and bringing undue attention upon himself as a person of interest. Adding to her concern is the fact that her probe into the deaths keeps turning up information that could be prejudicial to her defense. It’s not unusual for a lawyer to question her client’s innocence, but the myriad secrets and betrayals that she uncovers leads her to wonder if she ever really knew Graham at all.

There’s also a subplot in which Sam must use extreme stealth (and the influence of her father, LAPD detective Dale Pearson, who she first met and successfully represented against a double-murder charge in Blood Defense) to locate the primary witness to a murder for gang lord Javier Cabazon. Though Sam fears that flushing her out is tantamount to signing the girl’s death warrant, she also knows that she simply cannot refuse; Cabazon has saved her skin and has incriminating information that he could choose to use against her at any time.

It should be noted that Sam, who survived repeated rapes as a teenager at the hands of her narcissistic mother’s boyfriend, has a penchant for vengeance. While the courtroom tends to see morality in terms of black and white, she knows that actual justice often lies within the gray areas; consequently, she’s righted a few perceived wrongs—and occasionally worked beyond the limits of the law to do so. This makes her an unusually complex character but hardly unsympathetic.

As with all of Clark’s books, the narrative is very much grounded in the realities of crime and coverup. In addition to the resonant social issues that underscore her stories—here, exploitation by virtue of revenge porn and human trafficking (among others)—she explores the multitude of factors that influence justice, however unfairly. These include but are not limited to: media, prejudice, and wealth. Further, Sam’s relative youth, edginess, and ambition allow the author—who is a veteran of the TV/internet circuit—to showcase how contemporary considerations such as social networking and other technological advancements have become integral to trying cases in the digital age. It’s all frighteningly formidable but rendered with an unabashed sense of fun. (It is fiction, after all.)

Marcia Clark has a proven talent for storytelling that transcends novels. What began as elaborate constructs for her juries eventually segued into script writing (a new development deal with ABC for a legal thriller was just announced last week)—and Snap Judgment, like her other books, masterfully illustrates that prowess. Propulsive plotting, visceral action, dexterous dialogue, and a palpable sense of time and place all conspire to make for an undeniably exhilarating read. And just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, she flips the script.

If you haven’t yet become a convert for team Clark, you owe it to yourselves to do so. This is one pleasure that won’t leave you feeling the least bit guilty.

 

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John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.

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