Snap Judgment by Marcia Clark

Cover Clark Snap Judgment

Last fall, I reviewed Moral Defense, by Marcia Clark (yes, THAT Marcia Clark, of OJ Simpson trial fame), which was the second in the series featuring criminal defense attorney Samantha Brinkman, based in Marcia’s turf, Los Angeles. Sam first showed up in Blood Defense, the first title in this series, in which she defended a decorated homicide detective accused in a double murder. That defendant is a recurring character in the series, as are Sam’s two associates (one of these is a genius ex-con, and the other is Sam’s closest friend since childhood).

In Moral Defense, I realized Sam is a REALLY great character, with opinions that I suspect reflect how Marcia may have felt during her legal career: “I’d been trashed on cable for dressing like a bargain-basement rag doll. Someday, women won’t have to put up with it. Someday, people are going to care more about what we say and do than what we look like. But that day didn’t seem to be coming any time soon…”

So we meet Sam again in Snap Judgment, #3 in this series. In this one, the seemingly perfect daughter of prominent civil attorney Graham Hutchins is found with her throat slashed. Her spurned ex-boyfriend seems the likely suspect, but he is found dead soon after in an apparent suicide. The person of interest in the boyfriend’s death is Hutchins, who hires Sam & Associates.

We learn that the boyfriend was uber-controlling and a creep who posted revenge porn online. The investigation quickly focuses on the daughter’s friends and classmates as well as perhaps some of her off-campus neighbors at USC (or, as many of us refer to it, “University of Spoiled Children.”): “For all that USC is a richy-rich kid school, the campus is in a shitty ‘hood where anything can happen.

Graham is a tough client. As a specialist in civil litigation, his perspective differs from Sam’s since “…in criminal court, the worst people are on their best behavior, and in civil court, the best people are on their worst behavior.” The investigation into the parallel mysteries takes the reader around Southern CA, areas Marcia Clark knows well. Good location detail, lots of interesting characters (and we feel like we are getting to know Dale, Greg and Michy VERY well), and a super twisty plot with great suspense make this a really good book.

In my prior review, I confessed my fascination with Marcia Clark, going back to the early 90s when she was a media star as well as a legal star as she battled to convict OJ . In her other series of novels there is also a female protagonist, Rachel Knight, but Rachel is on the other side, prosecuting cases (something Marcia knows inside and out). Placing Sam in the role of criminal defense attorney has allowed Ms. Clark to explore the “anything goes as long as you don’t get caught” side of the courtroom battles.

I am totally hooked on the Samantha Brinkman series, and this one reinforced my opinion that Sam is a much more interesting character than Rachel Knight, just IMHO. Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and Net Galley for an advance copy of this title in exchange for my honest review. Five stars! Can’t wait for the next one!

 

No Turning Back by Tracy Buchanan

COVER Buchanan No Turning Back

As a teacher, I was always kind of a softie – an easy grader. And I suspect that is true of my reviews as well. And I REALLY liked the sound of this one: “emotional roller coaster filled with heart-stopping secrets and hairpin turns.” Sounds like my kind of escapist fiction! So, when I received an advance copy of Tracy Buchanan’s No Turning Back courtesy of Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley, I was ready for a good time!

The premise is interesting, and the beginning is strong. In fact, reading the prologue, I was sure it would be awesome: “My heart pounds, a bird trying to flutter its way out of a cage. I’m breathing fast and heavy, my bare shoulders scraping the brick with each movement. But I keep looking up, not care about the pain. He hunches down, his pale fingers curling around the wooden slats above. I hear his breath, deep and low.” THAT creeped me out, and I was sure that an author who could set a scene of danger so vividly would meet my standards for a good mystery/thriller. I read on…

In this novel, Anna Graves is a new mother who has recently gone back to her work as a radio personality following the breakup of her marriage. She is walking on the beach with her daughter one evening when she sees a group of teenagers who are not people she knows. Alert to any risk to her daughter, she is stunned to see another teenager (not part of the group) coming at her with a knife.

Adrenalin kicks in along with terror, and Anna reacts instinctively to protect her baby. The result is a tragedy but Anna and her daughter are both safe. Then her life starts to fall apart, and we watch Anna falling apart following this event and the re-emergence of the “Ophelia Killer,” a serial killer who hasn’t been heard from for twenty years. The killings stopped right when Anna’s father committed suicide (red flag alert). That event sent her mother over the edge, and Anna has bonded with her grandmother, who has always been her source of comfort.

So far, so good. And I appreciate the way the author let the reader know about Anna’s journalistic instincts. “She just had what her dad used to call the “crowd’s gut”: a natural instinct to know what the zeitgeist was at any given time.” Nice!

But things fell apart for me as the clues mounted, and the revelations about both the current mystery and the events from twenty years earlier began to mount up. At the end, I just wanted it to be over.

I looked at the author’s other titles and think that if I had looked at any of her previous work I would not have been interested in this one. But damn did the marketing people put on a good case! I was convinced, and again, it started strong. I might consider looking at her work again, because she does have strengths in the genre. But it wasn’t put on my favorite new author list. Easy grader that I am, three stars.

 

Shades of Blue by Amy Ferris

shades of blue cover

Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue

By Amy Ferris

For starters, this book is amazing. Amy Ferris has gathered writings about a subject that is close to my heart, and the result is a powerful, gut-wrenching, piercing look into a topic that is too often stigmatized, hidden, shame-based, you name it, there just aren’t many positive terms that come to mind around this topic. And yet, people in the grip of this affliction (or living with someone who battles the “black dog” of depression) can really benefit from the realization that they are not alone. So why was I so negative about this book when I read it?

OK, so I guess it really IS all about me!! 🙂

And why do I think this book is amazing? A psychiatric nurse who wrote about this book put it this way: “The crushing isolation of depression gets a few shades lighter each time someone realizes…”I’m not alone. I’m connected to a bigger picture.”’ Thank you for this beautiful and necessary book.”

I couldn’t agree more. And yet, when I wrote in my journal about this book, after spending two full days with it while on vacation, I said:

Only 3 types of people would read this:

  1. Someone in prison who goes to the prison library and finds every other book is checked out
  2. People who are really into the topic of depression, falling into two categories:
    1. Therapists/caregivers
    2. Depressives

It is SO honest, and I found I became seriously depressed reading this book. Early on, I recognized myself in quotes such as “Among the many things that make me who I am is the fact that I am a person with a clinical disorder. I’ve been on five different antidepressants since I was a teenager…” And “I hate taking the medication. The idea that I cannot fully function without it breaks my heart on a regular basis, but I can’t stop taking it. I’ve tried.”

These are things that resonate with me, and I am sure with many people who have felt the slide toward the black hole. (NOTE: I am not identifying the authors of any of the quotes in this review—and confess I am somewhat afraid to go back and read it right now…having just recovered what feels like equilibrium following the deep despair I felt after reading it. Seriously, on the bright side (often an unfamiliar landscape for me), in retrospect I realize that it was equal parts despair (reading about the reality of this affliction) and hope (as I realized people CAN — and I often DO– recognize the “warning signs” and avoid the big slide toward the black hole).

Several of the writings captured the reality of the affliction:

  • “I now accept, without doubt, that depression is purely a result of the chemicals swimming in our brains, and we can choose those chemicals.”
  • “The stigma and shame of depression linger. No one brings you casseroles or calls you a heroine when you’re depressed.”
  • “Terrible things happen—they go on happening all your life, but here’s what I discovered: anguish, unhappiness, sadness, fear, loneliness, and grief are not the same as depression. It can all hurt as much as depression, but you are not paralyzed. You keep breathing. And the lovely surprise of growing older is that most of us get happier. If you’re lucky and have decent health, friends, a roof over your head, food on the table, and something you love to get up and do every day – you calm down. You no longer want to throw yourself off a balcony.”
  • “Sleep, when it comes, is full of nightmares. You awaken in the middle of the night, terrified, and filled with disgust at your terror. Morning arrives and you do not feel rested.”

 Despite being dragged down by the writing (admittedly, reading it ALL in two days may not have been the best idea), I also now realize after pondering it for a week or more, that I got hope from several statements:

  • one writer “found my ability to travel alone to the kinds of gorgeous places I had once only romanticized about: beaches and vacation and…”
  • I have had other bouts of depression, but I have learned to catch myself at the top of the spiral before I begin that terrifying descent. I heed those first warning signs—self-deprecating thoughts and debilitation anxiety—and, with the help of medication, I know I can stop the fall.”

Fundamentally, the book reiterated what I have come to admit: I am complicit in perpetuating the negative stigma that is all too real, even today. Several years ago, I decided that I would help break down some of the barriers, and talk about my experiences. I soon realized that my boss was emphatically NOT sympathetic, and that my workplace environment would be much less pleasant if I admitted to “having problems.” And that, as my aunt told me, some members of my family would not react well…my penchant for being “too straightforward” was not likely to be met with hugs and warm supportive responses. I decided it was all I could do to just maintain my hold on the life I had created as I learned to “deal with it,” and I crept back into silence. I have also learned from conversations with my niece that there really are people (even family members!) who understand and who can both benefit from my experience and provide support when I need it.

To sum it up: “To look at most of us, you’d never know. We compensate so well, we look so normal. We’ve kept the silence. We’ve perpetuated the stigma. “

<sigh> But I like to think that everyone does the best they can to get through each day!

I so appreciate this book…although it may not be easy reading, especially for those who see themselves in these pages, it really can help people realize they are NOT alone! Much gratitude to NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my review. Again, powerful stuff, and not for everyone, or maybe just not necessarily at any time (for me, it’s a trigger, apparently, to delve so deeply into someone else’s anguish) but just for the honesty alone, it is worth five stars.