A judge gets rattled

2008-02-01 00:00

IN his early years as a writer Scott Turow turned out some great legal thrillers; Presumed Innocent and The Burden of Proof are classics of their kind - legally sound, cleverly and imaginatively plotted, fast-paced and strong on character, action and suspense.

Alas, a few novels later the now rich and famous Turow started to coast, resting on his laurels and getting ideas above his station. He decided he was ready to write Serious Novels. Ordinary Heroes, set in World War 2, was one such, and pretty null and void it was, too. This new one returns us to Kindle County, scene of former legal triumphs, and focuses on George Mason who, at 59, has sat as a judge on the Court of Appeals for nearly a decade. His days are uneventful until a troubling, truly horrible rape case is brought before him. This coincides with a couple of other nasty things; the diagnosis of his wife's illness and the receipt of some unpleasantly threatening anonymous e-mails.

But Mason, a skilled, experienced and usually unshockable jurist, is almost unreasonably rattled. So what is it about this case which is so unsettling and which sets him questioning his own fitness to sit on the bench? The answer, of course, lies in his own history; he finds himself revisting an adolescent incident that bears more than passing resemblance to the case he now confronts.

It's a slight tale, not uninteresting but scarcely a breathless page-turner. And as it ambles along and the likeable but fairly colourless Mason works things out and comes to terms, etc., one suddenly discovers it's petered out; the book is a mere 197 pages. The remaining 40-plus pages, inserted to fatten up the trade paperback (which costs R140), are given over to three whole chapters of that previous dud, Ordinary Heroes. It may sound harsh, but I think the author's a chancer and his publisher's a cheat.

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