Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Killer Ambition - Marcia Clark

First line: "Rocky mountain peaks glowed lonely and austere under the nearly full moon."

Special Trials ADA Rachel Knight is determined to tackle one of the trickiest types of high-profile cases in Killer Ambition, Marcia Clark's third book in the legal thriller series. This time around she has the power of Hollywood working against her.

A super-star movie director's daughter has been kidnapped. The director attempted to pay the ransom before turning to the police for help. But his efforts were too little, too late. The young woman is found stabbed to death and left in the trunk of her kidnapper's car at LAX.

When the suspected kidnapper makes the mistake of using the dead girl's iPad to charge airline tickets in New York City, Rachel and her best friend, Detective Bailey Keller, are set to head to New York and drag him back.  But then the prime suspect shows up dead in Los Angeles and they learn he and the director's daughter were the one's who cooked up the kidnapping scheme. So who's charging tickets in New York? And more importantly, who killed the two victims?

As the case takes curve after curve, Rachel and Bailey lean into the turns, determined to find the killer and see that justice is done. If they have to fight all of Hollywood to accomplish that feat, then bring it on.

This isn't my first time with Marcia Clark's Rachel Knight series, but it is the first time I've experienced it on audio, narrated by January LaVoy. I'm sure that LaVoy is a great performer in all that she does, but she just may have been born for the Rachel Knight role.

Killer Ambition employs all the attributes that hooked me on Rachel Knight from the start: sharp dialogue, strong female characters, dynamic relationships, a swift plot, and a believable presentation of both the law and Los Angeles. Clark indubitably gives LaVoy strong content to work with. LaVoy then reaches deep in the characters and turns them inside out for her audience.

Rachel Knight is an assistant district attorney because of her passion for justice. She is able to empathize with victims, no matter how forgotten they may be. And in Killer Ambition, the whole world seems to forget about the victims. LaVoy puts a powerful sound to that empathy. LaVoy also balances Rachel's insecurities well, so that she comes across as human and fallible yet still incredibly determined, smart as a whip and ready to hold her own with the "big boys." Rachel Knight is a capable, modest woman in the land of self-exaltation.

A new addition to the cast is "baby ADA" Declan Shackner, and he stole the show for me in this novel. Again LaVoy zeroed in on his core and subtly highlighted it every time he appeared on the page. His genuineness and compassion complemented Rachel's. His awkwardness and desire to please are charming, and he quickly worked his way into the good graces of both Rachel and Bailey. However, the uncertainty of his character adds an element of suspense as well. He's the son of a Hollywood mogul. So is he a mole with excellent acting skills or the real deal?

There are plenty of wonderfully idiosyncratic characters peppering this novel: from Dorian the crime scene tech, to Dr. Legs the hacker informant to Terry Fisk the small, yet powerful defense attorney. LaVoy's performance convinces the reader that she enjoyed every last one of them.  Dorian's sarcasm rips and Fisk's need for control stifles, all courtesy of Clark and LaVoy.

The novel starts off with the typical crime investigation, evidence collection and testing, etc. But the bulk of the plot takes place in the courtroom, which doesn't seem to be that common in legal thrillers anymore (or maybe I'm just reading the wrong books). However, Clark's depiction of the courtroom is authentic without being dull. And granted, a high-profile Hollywood case is not your run-of-the-mill scenario. However, Clark makes the legal process thrilling, without throwing in a dramatic Perry Mason courtroom confession. The complexity behind choosing a jury, the weird way chance could be the deciding factor in a trial, how certain tactics and people can affect jurors. The dissection was as fascinating as the multi-layered plot.

Killer Ambition is a captivating novel; the audiobook is an auditory fireworks display. It erupts with the colorful characters and explosive story. It leaves the audience oohing and aahing. It's memorable even after it's over. And be careful. It's also hot, hot, hot!

Killer Ambition is available as an unabridged audio (ISBN: 978-1619696341) on 13 CDs from Hachette Audio and in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0316220941) from Mulholland Books.

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