Up Close: Marcia Clark
Vigilante Justice—Plan B
By K. L. Romo
Los Angeles defense attorney Samantha “Sam” Brinkman is an antihero extraordinaire. We love her, but she’s done some terrible things, and she’s not apologetic in the least. In FINAL JUDGMENT, bestselling author Marcia Clark sets Sam up in a case too close to home: she investigates and defends the love of her life, Niko Ferrell. Is he innocent of the murders that result from an investment deal gone bad? And if he’s guilty, does she care?
“Morally ambiguous” Sam isn’t your average defense attorney. She will do whatever it takes to get her clients off the hook, and she has little respect for the legal system—it didn’t stop the abuse she suffered from her pedophile billionaire stepfather who “murdered her childhood,” so why would she trust it? Sam relies on herself to mete out justice, “suffering zero pangs of guilt for disposing of trash.”
So far, her extracurricular activities have served her well. She is a successful criminal defense attorney, working with her best-friend-since-childhood Michy and her investigator/computer-hacker-magician Alex. As long as she has her vats of coffee, sufficient onion bagels and donuts, junk food (since she has “zero moves” in the kitchen), and jumbo-sized bottles of Patron Silver, she’ll be fine.
Sam never committed to an intimate relationship until she met Niko—a martial artist and successful entrepreneur—who is now the closest thing to a partner she’s ever had. But after a financial investment goes belly-up and the investment manager responsible is murdered by “internal decapitation,” a condition often associated Niko’s style of martial arts, Niko becomes the prime suspect. His potential guilt doesn’t bother Sam—other than, perhaps, the consequences—but the secrets she uncovers during her investigation do.
As Sam delves deeper into the investigation, she questions who Niko really is. She knows she has a few—or a few hundred—skeletons in her own closet he knows nothing about, so why should his secrets bother her so much? It all comes down to trust.
In Sam Brinkman, Clark has developed a damaged character who pursues justice using her own understanding of right and wrong, regardless of the law. Although she’s ethically ambivalent, we cheer for the woman who “lends justice a helping hand” by doling out retribution to those who deserve it most. FINAL JUDGMENT prompts us to think about how far we’d go to ensure justice prevails.
Here, Clark chats with The Big Thrill about how her own professional experiences shaped the series and why it was important to create an anti-hero like Sam Brinkman.
As a former high-profile prosecutor—handling the prosecution of stalker/murderer Robert Bardo and being the lead prosecutor in the O. J. Simpson murder trial—what led you to write a series with a protagonist who is a defense attorney? Were you getting back to your roots?
Yes! Samantha Brinkman took me back to my roots. Before I joined the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, I was a criminal defense attorney. In my first series of books, my lead character, Rachel Knight, was a prosecutor. I wanted to move to the other side of things for a change and write from the perspective of a criminal defense lawyer, because it’s a very different mindset and POV.
Defense lawyers’ loyalty is to their clients. Period. There are rules that govern how far they can go—they’re not allowed to just suborn perjury—but their focus is, and should be, just the welfare of their clients. On the other hand, prosecutors are required to ensure that a defendant gets a fair trial. They’re not just supposed to go after convictions, or the lengthiest sentence they can get, regardless of what the evidence shows. If the evidence doesn’t seem to add up to guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, then they’re obligated to say so, and either dismiss the case or do further investigation. Even when the evidence is sufficient, they’re obligated to consider mitigating factors that might justify conviction and sentencing of a lesser degree or crime. Not just “go for it” and seek the maximum sentence, regardless of the facts of the case or the nature of the offender.
After writing about Rachel Knight, who had to play by the rules, I wanted the freedom of a character who went to the other extreme and not only didn’t play by the rules, or break the rules, but shredded them. Hence, Sam Brinkman. I think of her as my id. If you could punish the monsters who would otherwise beat the system, wouldn’t you? Sam thinks so, and she does.
Sam suffers continued emotional trauma from her stepfather’s sexual attacks. Why did you have your protagonist experience sexual violence and its aftermath?
I wanted to shine a light on the lifelong damage caused by a traumatic childhood. Even those who succeed in life are forever changed and must find a way to cope with the fallout. I wanted to explore how someone who’d suffered such trauma might do that.
Neglected by a narcissistic mother and abused by one of her mother’s boyfriends—a rich and powerful sociopath—Sam had to learn to fend for herself from an early age. Sam could have wound up on the streets or in jail. So many kids who’ve suffered from abuse do.
Sam was headed down that path through her teenage years. Between booze and drugs, it was not looking good for her. But Sam got lucky when her mother accidentally married a decent man who saw that Sam needed help. Although a mess, she was smart enough to know she should take the help—and tough enough to make use of it. Sam pulled her act together by sheer force of will and, against all odds, became a successful criminal defense lawyer.
Sam’s success was great, but the 16 years of abuse and neglect she’d suffered took their toll. Tough, suspicious of almost everyone, and with zero respect for a criminal justice system that utterly failed her, she has very few boundaries for getting what she wants. And she finds that what she wants most of all is to take out the predators who victimize the weak and powerless who would otherwise escape justice. She has few limits in her pursuit of justice, and she suffers no remorse for any of it. In truth, I think Sam’s a bit on the spectrum.
You write about not just the black and white of law and justice, but the gray area. Can you elaborate on your thoughts?
To me, the gray area is always the most intriguing territory. When a lead character is chasing down a Hannibal Lecter, she never has to think about whether her cause is righteous or whether she has a skewed personal agenda.
By contrast, Sam knows she sometimes makes questionable choices because of the psychological scars she carries from her traumatic childhood. She must often think about whether she’s doing the right thing or taking things too far, then when she acts impulsively and suffers the consequences, she must rethink her choices.
Sam lives in the gray area.
Why did you make FINAL JUDGMENT Sam’s finale?
It just felt like it was time to let Sam have her ultimate victory, and with that victory, it was time to let Sam—and me—move on.
How does the Sam Brinkman series comment on how celebrity and media attention impact criminal cases?
Sam handles high-profile cases, and being a savvy attorney, she knows that the media will always be a factor. She uses the press to her advantage—both to spin the coverage to help her client and to ferret out witnesses. In the process, she shows us how the media can sway public opinion and have an outsized impact on the case—both inside and outside the courtroom.
Sam Brinkman is more badass than many men. Did you create her to counteract gender bias?
Not consciously—I just wanted to write about a badass woman. And a woman who was tough enough to survive and succeed despite a rough beginning.
Is there a message you’d like readers to take away from FINAL JUDGMENT?
The core message comprises two questions: How much do you really want to know about your significant other? And how much do you want them to know about you?
How is writing a novel like presenting a case to the jury?
In both cases, you’re telling a story. But when you’re writing a novel, no one gets to cut you off and yell, “I object!”
Do you have another novel in the works, or will you be concentrating on your various TV series?
I’m currently working on my next crime novel, and the pilots for two one-hour series for television.
Tell us something about yourself your fans might not already know.
When I was a little kid, I used to love to make up treasure maps and then draft my friends to search for the treasure with me. I got so into those maps, I actually forgot that I’d dreamed them up to begin with. I was a very weird kid.
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