Legal thriller not up to par

2010-09-01 00:00

AFTER an unsatisfactory fictional detour to World War 2 with Ordinary Heroes, Scott Turow returns to what he does best: the legal thriller. His first, Presumed Innocent in 1988, set the benchmark for the genre and since then, at dignified intervals, he has produced six well-written and thought-provoking novels.

Innocent is a sequel to Presumed Innocent 20 years on, although it can be read as a stand-alone book and cleverly manages not to give away anything crucial about its predecessor. But is it as good? No, but it’s close.

The clever thing about Presumed Innocent was that the narrator, prosecutor Rusty Sabich, was on trial for murder and as he drew you into his tale you also began (like a jurist) to wonder if he was telling the truth. A literary trick that the film version with Harrison Ford was unable to duplicate.

In Innocent, Turow tells the story from several points of view. Sabich is now a judge and when his wife dies suddenly, apparently from natural causes, his old rival, district attorney Tommy Molto, urged on by super-keen assistant Jim Brand, questions the nature of the death and eventually­ indicts Sabich for murder.

While never less than enjoyable, Innocent fails to balance the demands of the genre with Turow’s more serious intentions: meditations on the nature of love and mortality­ — Sabich is wrestling with having just turned 60 — and the ultimate twist on which the case turns is a mere squib given the swirling emotional drama.

To some extent, Turow looks to be writing on the rebound from his last (and awful) book, in need of a big whammy to restake his claim to the legal thriller high ground. He gets there by the skin of his teeth.

Hopefully, he’s got Sabich and Molto out of his system and gets back to his best form.

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