by Sharon Tucker
While Bouchercon 2020 will now be virtual, with more information to come soon on their website, KRL is going to be featuring some of the planned special guest speakers, starting this week with Scott Turow.
Justice is a temporary thing that must at last come to an end; but the conscience is eternal and will never die. —Martin Luther
In 1990, I remember sitting in a theater, stunned by the turn of events at the end of Presumed Innocent. Now that I have read three of Scott Turow’s Kindle County novels with the same characters, I see that his characters and plots are even better on the page. The internal monologues detail so much more than actors can ever vocalize. It is really a pleasure to go back and read what made the books best sellers and to discover more about these rich characters. Presumed Innocent (1987) introduces the family of Rusty Sabich and his cohorts in the justice system of Kindle County. In The Burden of Proof (1990), we get a closer look at Sandy Stern, the county’s premiere defense attorney who faces a series of crises in his own life and that of his family that challenge his perceptions. Innocent (2010) happens over two decades after Presumed Innocent finding Rusty Sabich on the bench, his son is a law student, and his wife Barbara is more troubled than ever.
The troubles in Presumed Innocent began ostensibly when Rusty Sabich, Chief Prosecutor of Kindle County, succumbed to temptation and began a relationship with a co-worker at the Justice Department. Matters worsened as his obsession with Carolyn Polhemus became evident to his wife Barbara, and when Polhemus was ritually murdered, more unsavory information emerged about almost everyone she associated with currently and in her past. The center of the novel is how the behavior of Sabich sets in motion uncontrollable events, and it’s fascinating and horrible to watch them unfold.
Who can forget the indelible impression Raul Julia made on the audience as defense attorney, Sandy Stern? The Stern of The Burden of Proof is less the traditional matinee idol and more the urbane, middle-aged, professional man surprised late in life by the suicide of his wife, the possible perfidy of a major client and a complete lack of knowledge regarding his own children. Sandy is grieving and utterly at a loss personally as all this descends on him. His efforts to make sense of so much he has taken for granted for a lifetime are valiant and fascinating.
Rusty Sabich has a good life, is a successful judge, and a loving father and husband. Why then does he risk it all yet again by having an affair? Twenty-two years may have passed since the murder of Carolyn Polhemus but the events that unfold in Innocent expose the wounds from it that obviously have not healed. What’s different about Sabich here is that in the years that have passed, the guilty knowledge of what happened in Presumed Innocent may have left him efficient and functional but it feels like his life is a façade now more than ever. It makes us wonder if his life was like that, too, all those years ago as well. He loves his son and his wife; he’s a respected professional, a man of probity. Why has he not finally grown up and will he get yet another chance here to do so?
Scott Turow writes brilliant, attractive, flawed characters, and his backstories serve to ameliorate the most tragically flawed of his characters making you sympathize with the worst and feel what’s cringe-worthy in the best. His people are adept professionals who make dire personal and professional mistakes. His plots are so well constructed that you won’t see the developments coming, but in retrospect, the clues are all there. He makes Chicago of the past and the now come alive and makes you feel like you live in the midst of it. Perhaps the best news of all though is that we have a new Kindle County novel just published, The Last Trial (2020) in which Sandy Stern is in the courtroom again defending an old friend. I cannot wait!
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