Turow’s novels have a density missing from most legal thrillers. It’s a pleasure to return to the territory of “Presumed Innocent” even more for the complex characters than for the subtle and exciting courtroom scenes.
There’s Rusty Sabich, the deputy prosecutor who was charged in the first book with murdering one of his colleagues, Carolyn Polhemus, with whom he’d had an affair; Barbara, Rusty’s prickly wife, a brilliant mathematician; Raymond Horgan, Rusty’s boss, whose political future was on the line; and Sandy Stern, the suave defense lawyer who always knew exactly what questions not to ask, in court and out.
“Innocent” picks up more than 20 years later. Rusty is again charged with murder -- and this time, the dead body belongs to his wife.
Barbara dies in bed on page one. Suspicions are raised when Rusty, now an appeals-court judge, doesn’t call anyone, not even their son, Nat, for 23 hours.
Was he waiting for something in her stomach to disintegrate so no one could tell she’d been poisoned?
There are incriminating circumstances. After years of monogamy following Carolyn’s murder, Rusty has recently had an affair with one of his law clerks. Also, he’s heard an appeal from a man who poisoned his boyfriend, and had a strange, improper discussion with him outside the courtroom:
“’How was that, John?’” Rusty asked. “’The month you knew you were killing that man?’”
Was this a pointed barb from a judge to a criminal admitting his guilt, or the searching question of a man planning to poison his own wife?
Turow manages to deepen and complicate all his familiar characters; no one is purely likable or despicable, except perhaps Sandy Stern, who merits this beautiful description:
“An Argentinian who’d come here in the late 1940s during the turmoil with Peron, he still played the polished Latin gentleman 60 years later, with a trace accent that enhanced his speech like some fancy seasoning -- truffle oil or sea salt -- and the manners of the staff in an expensive hotel.”
If you haven’t read “Presumed Innocent,” please do. The ending of that book was one of the great shockers of recent literature, and will color your reading of “Innocent.” And Turow, courteously, craftily, stealthily, never once gives it away.
(Laurie Muchnick is an editor at Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
To contact the writer on the story: Laurie Muchnick in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.