Chris Nashawaty
May 17, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Circus, carnival, freak show — at one point or another, the O.J. Simpson trial seemed to be all of the above. Lately, though, the case that just won’t go away is looking more and more like the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes with the country’s book publishers getting jolly little visits from the prize patrol. Just take a look at Publishers Weekly’s best-seller list, where Christopher Darden’s In Contempt is ensconced at No. 1 and Robert Shapiro’s The Search for Justice hovers below at No. 10 (Alan Dershowitz’s Reasonable Doubts hit No. 11 before disappearing from the charts).

Last year, of course, it was the celebrity barristers who were raking in the cash. Shapiro snagged $1.5 million from Warner, Darden landed $1.3 million from ReganBooks, Johnnie Cochran made a multimillion-dollar deal with Ballantine, and Marcia Clark got a $4.2 million check from Viking — an astonishingly expensive gamble that has many in the biz shaking their heads. ”People overpay all the time in this industry — it’s disgusting,” says ReganBooks’ Judith Regan. ”They’re going to have to sell a lot of copies of Marcia Clark’s book just to break even.” Both Cochran’s and Clark’s books have been bumped from fall ’96 to spring ’97, fueling rumors of manuscript problems. Ballantine denies any trouble. Viking publicist Paul Slovak says Clark is just ”taking her time,” but there’s talk of a rift between her and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist-coauthor Teresa Carpenter.

”I’m surprised by people’s appetite for this stuff,” says Darden’s cowriter, Jess Walter. ”It’s a train wreck, and people just can’t look away.” No shocking revelations about the murders have yet appeared, but ”people keep thinking they’ll find some new missing clue in one of these books,” says Morrow editor Claire Wachtel, who paid $450,000 for a book by Ron Goldman’s family, due out in 1997. Considering the public’s seemingly insatiable interest in all things Simpson, publishers are not willing to risk missing the O.J. money train. ”Everyone said with Watergate, ‘There can’t be another book,’ but they kept coming out,” says Clark’s agent Joni Evans. ”Who knows when it will end?”

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