Book Review: The Fall Girl by Marcia Clark

In Marcia Clark's latest legal thriller The Fall Girl, lives and lies are inextricably linked by a high-profile murder trial. Check out Doreen Sheridan's review!

I confess: I’m a bit biased when it comes to Marcia Clark. While much of the world—or at least much of the non-reading world—continues to base their opinions of her on what they saw or heard during “The Trial of the Century,” those of us who’ve discovered her crime fiction (also) recognize her as a gifted storyteller whose legal expertise is enhanced by lithe plotting, sharp dialog, and uproarious wit. After two critically acclaimed series—one featuring a by-the-book prosecutor (Rachel Knight; Guilt by Association, et al.) and the other a morally ambiguous criminal defense attorney (Samantha Brinkman; Blood Defense, et al.)—Clark offers her first standalone, The Fall Girl. It’s an ideal entry point into her oeuvre.

The author’s new co-lead, Charlie Blair, makes an immediate and indelible impression. Intent on leaving the vestiges of her tragic past behind—including her true identity as Lauren Claybourne, and the accompanying baggage—she flees Chicago (where she worked as a public defender) to begin life anew in Santa Cruz. Her transformation includes blue contacts, blonde hair dye, and false documentation that will allow her to continue practicing law, albeit as a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office. Despite some initial misgivings about working for “the man,” she soon finds purpose in advocating for the victims of crime (as did Clark herself, though she now practices appellate law on behalf of the indigent). But her impressive transition leads to involvement in a high-profile case that could blow her cover, if not jeopardize her life.

Meanwhile, Erika Lorman is the darling of the DA’s office, having just won a murder case against a celebrity chef whose charm and good looks threatened to blind the jury to the truth and subvert justice. To ensure that conviction, the veteran prosecutor had to eschew her ethics and work beyond the letter of the law—a one-time transgression that could have ruinous ramifications. Her fear of discovery is amplified when Charlie is assigned to be her second chair in the impending trial of a young woman charged with killing her mother (a bail bondswoman); it’s a seemingly straightforward case that quickly turns out to be anything but. Immediately distrustful of her camera-shy colleague, Erika goes on the offensive to minimize any potential blowback (not to mention the exposure of her own misdeeds). 

For the first time in her career as a novelist, Clark utilizes a dual narrative technique in which chapters alternate between Charlie’s (first-person) and Erika’s (third-person) perspectives. It’s a clever, well-executed move that emphasizes the psychological aspects of the story over the procedural elements, which largely predominated earlier works. Consequently, tensions run high as Charlie and Erika realize each is keeping secrets, and that their own salvation may come in sacrificing the other. The characters struggle with ethical and moral dilemmas that render them both complex and, ultimately, sympathetic (if not always likable). On a more aesthetic level, the beauty of Santa Cruz—where the courthouse is within walking distance of the beach—is tempered by the dangers that emerge after dark, which symbolizes the book’s dichotomous nature. 

The Fall Girl shows Marcia Clark at her absolute best. The book is her leanest to date yet packs as big and brash a punch as any of her previous works. And while the story does indeed stand alone, offering resolution for characters and circumstances, Clark leaves the door open, if slightly, should she ever be tempted to revisit this literary landscape. In the meantime, new readers have an abundance of earlier offerings to catch up on while the rest of us will just have to wait and wonder what comes next. Which seems to be in keeping with the very definition of suspense.

Note: Marcia Clark co-narrates the audio version of The Fall Girl with Cathy LePard.

 

 

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    This one,though,almost a non-event.Very disappointing.

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