Book Review: The Competition by Marcia Clark

Posted September 11, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 3 Comments

Book Review: The Competition by Marcia ClarkThe Competition by Marcia Clark
Genres: Detective, Mystery, Police Procedural, Thriller
Published by Mulholland Books on July 8, 2014
Pages: 416
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley


A Columbine-style massacre at a high school in the San Fernando Valley has left a community shaken to its core. Two students are identified as the killers. Both are dead, believed to have committed a mutual suicide. But in the aftermath of the shooting, as LA Special Trials prosecutor Rachel Knight and Detective Bailey Keller dig deeper, they realize that the pieces don't add up. Could it be that the two "killers" were themselves victims? And if so, does that mean that the real killers are still on the loose? When someone starts dropping clues that another horrific crime is in the works, Rachel and Bailey scramble desperately to profile their suspect and prevent another killing--before it's too late.

Also by this author: Guilt by Association, Guilt by Degrees, Killer Ambition

Fourth in the Rachel Knight series and revolving around Rachel and her friends.

My Take
Clark breaks your heart from the start as she focuses in on one student’s dream finally being achieved. It’s a great way to yank your reader in and get them emotionally involved. God knows, I cried.

Talk about déjà vu, as Clark takes us through a school shooting, and it reminds me of the day I heard about the Columbine shooting on the radio. I can still remember where I was that day. Picking up slides at the photographer’s. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. And now, reliving it in The Competition, well, it brings all that loss back and breaks my heart.

All those families. All that promise.

The massacres are a repeat of several mass shootings that have been on the news in the past years. It includes references to theories and discussions about warning signs, symptoms, causes, and how parents could not see such signs. The two doctors Clark brings in as characters provide conflicting information about the effect of video games on kids, and it makes sense. In both directions. They also have some great suggestions for the team to ask their witnesses.

I know cops are just as human as the rest of us. And they’re just as prone to wanting to cut corners as the rest of us. And that’s why no one trusts them. Too many have gone for the easy arrest and not pressed for the real one. For the person who is truly guilty as opposed to this’ll-close-our-case. And the problem is that even one is too many.

It’s a slogging round of questioning multiple witnesses, seizing on the smallest possible clues, chasing them down, narrowing the possibilities down to just the guilty. Reading Clark’s stories makes you aware of the hard work the police do. The thankless task and little reward they receive for trying to protect us, as we curse them and withhold information that could save others.

I do wish Clark had given us some background on if those teachers survived.

It’s about time — Graden and Rachel are finally having sex. Oy.

Why does Rachel get so ticked off because a couple guys refer to her and Bailey as “ladies”? What? Would she prefer they say “bitches”, “hey, you”? Ooh, maybe “gals”? Or “women”? Yeah, “you women”. That’d make me feel all competent and accepted *eye roll*.

That’s one of those problems with high-IQ students. They get bored easily in class. It’s one thing to want to treat everyone the same, but everyone is not the same. Each child is different and learns at a different level. It doesn’t matter if they learn fast and quick or slow and methodical. What’s more important is for each student to enjoy the learning. To want to discover more. By forcing them all to the same pace takes that joy away from so many. Challenge kids to keep their attention focused. That would be a better use of educational funds than more tests to see if “our” kids are up to an arbitrary government standard. ‘Cause we see how well that’s worked.

Shane makes some good arguments. The government uses soldiers up in war. They come home with problems and does the government help them? No. Puts them through red tape, denies claims. No help in getting a job, getting back into society again. Well, really, why should the government go out of its way to help the men they tore from their everyday lives and ordered to attack today’s enemies? At a pittance of pay? They’ve done the job the government wanted. They got their nickel. What more could they possibly want? Other than a leg, an arm, a peaceful night’s rest.

That sergeant’s comment at the park cracked me up…!

“Always appreciate it when visitors pick up their own litter.”

That was a dumb move on Dwight’s part. What could the “bomber” possibly do that the cops couldn’t counter? And if the corpse was so burned up, how could they identify it so quickly?

Jesus, this is just so sad, but I do like the final ending Clark put on this. A very positive outcome to a horrible, horrible tragedy.

The Story
It’s a regular school day, but it’s Christy’s first appearance with the cheerleading team. And there’s a pep rally today! Only she won’t be finishing her routine…

It ends quickly, the shooting that is, when the killers commit suicide in the library. Only, Dr. Shoe isn’t buying it.

The Characters
Rachel Knight, a deputy district attorney, is one of the few lawyers in the Special Trials division along with one of her best friends, Toni LaCollier. Romy is the young sister who was kidnapped back when Rachel was very young. Luis Revelo is the MBA-pursuing shot-caller for the Sylmar Sevens gang. I do like him! He’s so real with a great sense of humor.

Their ultimate boss, District Attorney William Vanderhorn, is a nightmare, and Rachel refers to him as “Vanderputz”. He knows nothing, but insists on getting all the limelight. Eric Northrup is the head deputy for Special Trials, smart, experienced, and savvy. The unmotivated Melia is Eric’s secretary. Judge J.D. Morgan is dating Toni; his clerk is Sophie. Sweeny is a defense counsel.

Bailey Keller is a homicide detective and frequently partners up with Rachel on a case. She’s also one of Rachel’s best friends. Her boss, Lieutenant Graden Hales, is dating Rachel. He has a younger brother, Devon, and they’re partners in a video game that Graden invented and Devon wrote the program, then shopped around. They’re millionaires. Cherie is Graden’s very short-lived secretary. Skipper Don Harrellson is another detective. Detective Gina Stradley is first on the scene at the Cinemark Theater. Jay Rollins is on the Target shooting. Officer Todd Santos is the La Conchita cop who has the tip. Lieutenant Scott Braverman is a dick. Detective Dwight Rosenberg is not, although he does make a stupid move at the parking lot; his partner is Meg Wittig. Captain Vroman warns the principal. Sharpshooter Officer Butch Cannaday sets up. Officer Craig Silvers was patrolling the back of the hill with Rosenberg.

Dorian Struck is the best criminalist and crime scene analyst in the business; Marco Herrera is a co-worker. Dr. Shoenmacher, a.k.a., Dr. Shoe, is the head coroner, and Scott Ferrier is the coroner’s investigator whom Rachel picks on. Ed Berry is a senior firearms examiner. Nick Parsons is with the Computer Crimes Unit.

A couple of doctors are brought in to help with profiling: Dr. Jenny Shelby is a child psychologist with lots of hands-on experience with juvenile offenders and Dr. Michael Malloy has had experience with pedophilia. Gavin de Becker is the world’s foremost authority on stalking. Dr. Jerry Bingham is another mental health professional.

Marion J. Fairmont High School
Christy Shilling has achieved the dream she’s worked so hard for as the school’s newest cheerleader. Harley Jenson is her best friend since that first day at preschool. His dad, Andrew, got laid off and his mother is worrying about how they’ll afford MIT for him. Dimitri Rabinow will sing for the pep rally. Tammy Knopler is captain of the cheerleading team. Bryan Scofield was one of the jocks who picked on kids.

Charlotte Kerrigan is one of the students whose house is where Rachel and Bailey meet with witnesses. Her two besties are Marnie and Letha. Meredith Charnosh offers up her house for interviews with Mark, Vincent, Harrison, and Paula. At the principal’s house, Bailey and Rachel interview Nancy and Carrie who are two of the nine students present.

Otis Barney is a geeky kid with the weird laugh. His parents are Tom and Sonny. Carson James is a fellow student with whom Otis did a science project. Logan Jarvis is one of the students they can’t find; Brad and Bonnie are his worried parents. His brother Luke is a mechanic at a high-end auto-repair shop; Alfred Bedigan owns the shop. Some of Logan’s friends include Caleb Samuelson, Kenny Epstein, Evan Cutter, Darnell, and Leo. Mikayla and John Cutter are Evan’s parents. Mrs. Amy Ester brings in her son, Jeremy, whose car got sideswiped. Chloe and Suzanne Eckman sang Otis’ praises. Lionel Franks.

Principal Dale Campbell loves to see the students as one big family. Adam Levy is the geometry teacher; Hector Lopez teaches Spanish and dropped back to distract the shooters; Angela Montrose is the girls’ soccer coach who shields students with her body; Sara Beason is the teacher on duty in the library; Liam Forster and Ms. Sherman are science teachers; and, Arthur Windemere is Otis’ English teacher.

Michael Dingboom is Taft High School’s principal. It’s where the Fairmont students have been sent. Marion Jenks is the principal at Platt Junior High; Joe Cooper is a phys ed teacher; Sophia Magana; Albert Packman teaches math; and, Cherry Fournier teaches English who remembers an incident with a jock named Hot Rod. Vera Littlefield is an elementary school teacher. Greg Kingsley is a counselor at the high school in Lubbock, Texas. There’s a parole officer there by the name of Stanley Addison. Amanda Kozak was a student there who transferred out. Mark Unger was one of the juries. Petey is her little brother. Her parents are Janice and Hank Kozak who likes to hunt.

Lupe Velasquez is the manager at Cut-Rate Kicks. Joy Pickerton and Ava Landau work there too. Shane Dolan was Luke’s roommate for a bit and works for a tree cutting service and at a gun range. George “Lock” Lockmire owns the gun range. Rusty is a lead cop in Ventura. Eddie Hemmings works the Army-Navy surplus store. Isaiah Hamilton is the owner of Camarillo Tree Cutters. Pedro is one of his workers. Nancy Findley was a stalker. Max is an old army buddy of Shane’s. Jax Esposito is running guns and drugs and skimming off the top. Enrique Sosa is the manager at Target. Forest is a homeless guy and a witness. Francis Spader sold his mother’s car. Charlie Herzog traded his junker Chevy.

Special Trials is a 24/7 job and partners lawyers up with detectives; they’re usually at the crime scene with the cops, and it allows them to build a tighter case. Rachel lives at the Biltmore Hotel in a special arrangement with a survivor. Rafi is the hotel valet who wishes Rachel would use her car more. Angel is the doorman. Drew Rayford is one of the hotel bartenders and has been dating Bailey for a while now.

Lilah Bayer, a psychopath who is after Rachel, gets a little buggy. Her partner in crime, Chase Erling, is still in a coma after Lilah tried to have him killed.

The Cover
The cover is a close-up of the pillars in front of the courthouse with Rachel’s back to us, her hair in a long ponytail and clad in a grayish green leather jacket.

The title is nebulous. Is The Competition the shooters? The students? The race between cops and shooters? Considering what a psychopath the creep was, I’ll opt for the latter.

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