Writing From a Unique Perspective on Crime
By Dawn Ius
As millions of TV viewers settled in to watch history repeat itself, Marcia Clark considered hiding out somewhere for a few weeks to escape reliving yet another portrayal, another chilling perspective on the trial of the century, The People V. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, produced by Ryan Murphy.
For the former prosecutor-turned bestselling author, re-witnessing the trial, even disguised as an at-arms-length bystander, made her miserable. In the end, curiosity won out.
“I wanted to see what they did, how they showed it, whether they got it right,” she says. “I was very glad to see that they did get it right to a great extent, at least when it came to the big issues. And the performances were stellar.”
Especially the work of actor Sarah Paulson, who Clark describes as “simply brilliant.”
“She was so good, her ability to show how I was feeling inside throughout the trial was so spot on . . . it was painful to watch.”
Indeed, Paulson’s compelling portrayal has once again cast Clark—and O.J. Simpson—into the spotlight, perhaps for better or worse.
“I think it’s good that the case has sparked some serious discussions about important issues. I just hope people will remember that these discussions come at a terrible cost,” she says. “Whenever people speak of the case, I hope they will remember that the reason they’re having that discussion is because Ron and Nicole were tragically murdered.”
Even years after leaving the L.A. District Attorney’s Office in pursuit of a new passion, this is still the Marcia Clark that resonates with people. A prosecutor that fought passionately, diligently, and tirelessly for justice against unsurpassable odds. But since 2011, Clark has been making a new name for herself writing thrillers that have earned her a loyal—and growing—fan base, not to mention well-deserved praise from masters of the genre.
Now with BLOOD DEFENSE, the first book in a riveting new series, Clark shows another side of herself, tapping into her past career as a criminal defense lawyer to bring life to a new character. Samantha Brinkman is a struggling young attorney desperate for a case that will catapult her into the big leagues. And unlike Rachel Knight, the protagonist in Clark’s four previous thrillers, Sam has a somewhat more twisted personality, and a complicated background.
“Being a defense attorney requires a completely different mindset than that of a prosecutor,” Clark says. “The defense attorney has only one duty: to defend his or her client. So the job is really about knocking down the prosecution’s case, looking for hooks that will create reasonable doubt. It makes for a very different point of view.”
The story in BLOOD DEFENSE revolves around the double murder of a young actress and her roommate in which a veteran detective is the prime suspect. Clark knows all too well how the dynamics of a case can change when a celebrity is involved, and those undercurrents are well reflected here. The pace is breakneck, the plotting methodical, and the characters fully realized. But one can’t help wonder how much of Clark’s own experiences with high-profile defendants made it onto the page.
“When a sympathetic celebrity is involved, it skews the public perception,” Clark says. “If the victim was a celebrity, public sentiment runs in favor of conviction. If the defendant is the celebrity, it runs in favor of acquittal. In BLOOD DEFENSE, the victim was the celebrity, which meant that the public was predisposed to hate the defendant. So Samantha had to start spinning public opinion in favor of her client from the moment she took the case.”
No easy task since her client is a detective—and Sam hates cops with a blinding passion. Further muddying the waters is the fact that she has lingering doubts about her client’s innocence, perhaps with good reason. With each chapter, BLOOD DEFENSE builds to a nail-biting finish that will have you turning pages well into the night.
Clark’s ability to write suspense began in her childhood, when at the tender age of five years old, she made up stories—the empty house at the end of the block; the rusty, seatless bicycle left under a tree in the orange orchard; the beheaded Barbie doll in the field behind the library.
“Really, as I think about it now, it was kind of sick,” she says.
While it might be easy for adult Clark to draw inspiration from her previous careers, she admits that most cases—perhaps O.J. Simpson aside—aren’t nearly “crazy” enough to keep readers interested. The truth, she says, needs a few creative embellishments. “As I tell a story, I look for the forks in the road where things can go sideways—and then I let them.”
Clark will continue to let things go sideways with her second book in the series, Moral Defense, out this November.
California native Marcia Clark is the author of Guilt by Association, Guilt by Degrees, Killer Ambition, and The Competition, all part of the Rachel Knight series. A practicing criminal lawyer since 1979, she joined the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office in 1981, where she served as prosecutor for the trials of Robert Bardo, convicted of killing actress Rebecca Schaeffer, and, most notably, O. J. Simpson. The bestselling Without a Doubt, which she cowrote, chronicles her work on the Simpson trial. Clark has been a frequent commentator on a variety of shows and networks, including Today, Good Morning America, The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, and MSNBC, as well as a legal correspondent for Entertainment Tonight.