Scott Turow’s first novel, Presumed Innocent (1987), was a huge hit and established his reputation. Nine novels later, Turow returns to the same characters and a similar scenario with Innocent.
Innocent catches up with Rusty Sabich 22 years after he was tried for and acquitted of the murder of his lover in Presumed Innocent. Now a judge in his early 60s, Rusty is once again on trial for murder — this time for poisoning his wife, Barbara. A mellower Tommy Molto returns as the prosecuting attorney and the clever Sandy Stern is again Sabich’s defense lawyer.
While Presumed Innocent ends with a stunning surprise that falls within the bounds of plausibility, Innocent requires a credulity — the ability to accept that Rusty was able to stay married to a vengeful terror and let her raise their son — that not every reader possesses. And as the plot unfolds, the final revelation is a whimper instead of the wallop that Presumed Innocent delivers.
But Turow is worth reading even when the book is flawed. A practicing attorney, he is thoughtful about the limits of the American legal system to get to the truth and instructive about legal strategizing and the subjects that trial lawyers need to master (in this case, computer technology and psychiatric drugs).
To label Turow a writer of legal thrillers is to do him a disservice. Innocent is less of a page-turner than a complex moral study. Rusty Sabich may not be guilty as charged, but, as he knows, he is not innocent.
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