Turow's Innocent: Trial Rendered Almost Perfectly
I like my novels to resemble the life I lead: conflict-driven, filled with complex and often insoluble problems, and striving, against all expectations, for something like grace. Hence, I love Scott Turow's fiction. For my money, he is the best lawyer-writer alive. His latest, Innocent, is a triumph.
Old characters are revisited. Rusty Sabich, the protagonist in his debut work of fiction, Presumed Innocent, published in 1986, is now 60-years-old and a candidate for the state Supreme Court. His marriage to Barbara survived the aftermath of Sabich's prosecution for the murder his mistress, Caroline Polhemus, a case that ended in a not guilty verdict. The couple's marriage has survived on terms of a tenuous truce maintained primarily to assure that their son, Nat, has a fighting change what all parents strive to provide their offspring, a better life.
But discontent follows Sabich throughout his life. When his wife, a woman struggling with manic depression and a family history of heart disease, dies silently in their bed one night, Rusty sits beside her for a day before finally calling the police. There are years to reckon, unspoken promises both kept and broken, that need sorting before the formal and public process of grieving begins.
The coroner finds Barbara's death to be the result of natural causes. But a determined prosecutor in the same office that had once employed, and prosecuted, Sabich, believes that a man who had once beaten a murder charge is capable of killing again. He digs in, and presses a reluctant Tommy Molto to bring charges. Sabich is charged, and a public trial focuses on the circumstantial evidence that points to his guilt. Sabich hires Sandy Stern, the suave lawyer who successfully defended him in his first go round with the state. All are familiar characters, and live has changed them, presenting unexpected reasons for hope and despair.
Turow writes about trial like a man who has tried a case. He gets evidentiary foundations, materiality, relevance, and ebb and flow of the law of the case. With one notable exception, the courtroom scenes are convincing and well crafted. (You will have to find the failure yourself.)
The novel unfolds in chapters told from the points of view of different participants in the trial. You understand at once why the state feels the it must bring the case. Indeed, the case looks powerful. But is the circumstantial evidence of Sabich's guilt indicative of actual guilt? Complex medical and computer evidence drive the trial.
Sabich has secrets to keep, secrets that may protect his son from failure in love. Mindful of his own failures as a lover, husband and father, Sabich struggles to keep the secret, even when doing so costs him dearly. The novel can be read with profit by young lawyers as a cautionary tale about the attorney-client privilege. Sure, the privilege exists to give clients unfettered access to legal advice, but what happens when a client refuses to tell his lawyer the whole truth? What happens when trial is an approximation of a truth never fully told?
My sense is that although we call trial a search for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is rarely known. That is in part because knowing the truth about all the vectors that produce an event is nearly impossible. But it is due in larger part to the fact that a client's, and a witness's, pragmatic situation in the world colors their view. What you see quite literally depends on where you sit.
Turow writes beautifully about characters with the sort of nuanced lives most of us live. In Innocent, Turow delivers what is almost impossible to accomplish, a plot that unfolds with a sense of driven necessity yet peopled by characters with internal lives worthy of psychoanalysis. This is Grisham with a third dimension.
Innocent is a must read, and Turow, well, the man is a gem. I hope he writes yet another book about Rusty Sabich. I didn't realize how much I missed the man until I read this book. Turow is the gold standard in legal literary fiction.