Tag Archives: Innocent

For What It’s Worth

This is a link to a handy listing of 61 book reviews that we’ve written for this site and the New York Journal of Books:

http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/reviewer/joseph-arellano/

The listing may be useful as a quick reference guide when you’re considering whether or not to purchase a particular book.   Thank you to author Therese Fowler for discovering this link!  

Joseph Arellano

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Sequels and Prequels

“If you introduce a character that’s already familiar to somebody they have a vested interest.”   Sarah Bagby, managing partner of Watermark Books

One of the pleasurable facets of reading modern popular fiction is that once you discover an author (and it’s more likely to be a she than a he), you can read her earlier works and/or plan to read her future releases.   Once we arrive at a place of comfort with an author, we hope and presume that we will feel the same about separate works by that writer.   Generally each work will be separate, except when the author of fiction decides to create a series around a character, which is when we wind up with sequels and prequels.

The author who decides to extend a character’s life into a continuing series has a few minefields to deal with.   One is that people like continuity until they get tired of it.   Think of a new rock band with a successful initial CD.   Let’s call this band the Purple Onion (PO).   Everyone loved PO’s first album, Single Whammy, so when they release their follow-up album, Double Whammy, their fans are thrilled that it retains their “trademark sound.”   But what happens when Triple Whammy is released?   PO is then likely to be beaten up by both the critics and formerly rabid fans who say that they’ve become stuck in one place and have displayed little or no growth as musical artists.   (If Triple Whammy sounds nothing like the first two CDs, they are likely to get hammered for a different reason – for arbitrarily changing their style.)

An author faces the same issues in building a series of novels around a single character.   One example is Sarah Paretsky who has written for many years about the crusty Chicago-based detective V. I. Warshawsky.   Paretsky was praised for writing several “V. I.” books until some critics felt that the lead character had changed too much in later novels.   (Was V. I. getting soft?)   Her latest effort in the series was praised for being more like the original “V. I.” books.   Get back, V. I., back to where you once belonged!

So there’s a bend but do not break aspect to fashioning a lead character.   He or she must stay the same yet must evolve and grow the way most humans do in their own lives.   Suddenly the idea of hanging onto a main character doesn’t sound so easy, does it?

There’s also the fact that some readers may view the author as getting lazy, or feel that she/he is not challenging herself/himself enough.   What does one get out of writing about the same character(s) all of the time, except maybe a relatively safe source of income?   What about stretching oneself as an artist, a writer, by taking on new themes and styles?   This tends to be a valid critique, but only to a point.   That’s because authors like Richard Ford and John Updike wrote several books structured around a single character and both series were well-recognized with journalism’s highest awards.

The lesson here is that some skilled authors can write about the same character repeatedly and make it not only interesting but fascinating.   The key word, though, is skill.

Novels in a continuing fictional series based on a lead character tend to be sequels, but on occasion a writer decides to fashion a prequel.   This is a novel that deals with events that precede, rather than follow, the author’s introduction of a lead character.   In my view, prequels are much harder to write well because the mind of the average reader does not deal well with a character’s pre-introduction life…

Let’s say that I read a novel featuring detective L. A. Jones.   When I read the first book in which L. A. Jones appears he’s in his early forties.   If I finish this book and pick up the second in the series eighteen months later, it does not bother me that L. A. is now in his mid to late-forties; this seems natural.   But if I pick up the third book in the series and see that it deals with L. A. when he was a young man in his teens and twenties, it seems odd and hard to follow.   The mind tends to ask, “Why did the author do this?   I’m not interested in the character’s life before I knew (encountered) him!”

Yes, prequels can work in extending the life of a successful film or TV series, but that’s a bit different.   Fans of Star Trek, for example, so desperately wanted the series to continue in some form that they eventually learned to accept a prequel version.   But, when it comes to prequels in popular fiction, the words sung by Ringo Starr would seem to apply – “It don’t come easy.”

The take away point may be that an author who has developed a popular character would seem to have climbed on board the gravy train, and he/she would seem to be crazy to abandon that character.   But the public is extremely fickle about characters they’ve come to know and love.   These characters must stay the same while changing, but not too much so.

Perhaps the biggest issue, however, is with the author who fails to change his lead character enough.   One of the most critical and deadly comments is one that can often be found at Amazon.   It goes something like this, “I LOVED Joe Blow’s books about detective L. A. Jones and I bought every one!   But this book, the 17th in the series, stinks!   Joe Blow should have killed off detective Jones before now.   Blow’s now writing on automatic pilot, and these books are now nothing if not repetitive and boring.”

A fan of an author can go from loyalist to attack dog in an instant.   Woe to the author who creates a continuing character and lets that character over stay his/her welcome!   Better to let the character leave the stage a bit too early rather than far too late.

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.   This article is one in a continuing series.

Pictured:   Innocent, the sequel to Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow; the sequel released 20 years after the original.

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Faking It

False Convictions by Tim Green (Grand Central Publishing)

“Even in the suit, (Judge) Hubbard’s thick neck and big glasses gave him the air of a character actor playing a bit part on a low-budget cable movie.   Jesse Jackson kicked into gear with kisses, solemn hugs and jive handshakes.”

This reviewer was expecting something more substantial than what is found in Tim Green’s latest legal novel.   This is not a courtroom drama in the style of Scott Turow or an exciting part real, part fantasy, novel like those written by John Grisham.   No, instead it comes off as simultaneously low-budget and overdone.

The three main characters are stereotypes, none of them quite believable.   One is a young and brilliant shark of a lawyer, Casey Jordan, who, naturally, makes men melt at the sight of her in short skirts.   Another is a young male reporter who is God’s gift to women and knows that he’s more beautiful than Casey.   And lastly there’s the billionaire who can drop $2 million in a single afternoon in order to have Brad Pitt, Al Gore and Jesse Jackson join him at a press conference.   He also happens to move about in the fastest non-military airplane known to the world.

Stop me if you’ve heard this plot before.   A highly attractive young white woman is raped and savagely murdered.   The law enforcement authorities decide to arrest a young black man for the crime, and he’s sentenced to prison for the rest of his life.   Only maybe he didn’t do it.

In order to rectify injustices like this our friendly billionaire establishes a project to give sight to the blinded Lady Justice.   He offers Casey, who is so incredibly successful that she’s already been the subject of a TV movie, a cool $1 million retainer to take on the defense of only two wrongly convicted persons.   The billionaire may be Batman but he needs lawyers like Casey to serve as Robin.

The typical reader is going to expect a lot of twists and turns before things are resolved and the wrongly convicted person is freed.   Except that everything falls into place too quickly and about sixty-five or seventy percent of the way through this novel, the innocent guy is freed while one Judge Hubbard hangs out with Al Gore, Brad and Jesse.   Wait a second, there are too many pages left for this to be the end, which means…

Yes, the old fly in the ointment event occurs and everything suddenly goes to heck in a hand basket.   The best laid plans of billionaires go awry.   The same goes for the plot of this novel.   It goes into overtime before the game has been played out.

If Green had stopped when all the loose ends were tied, he might have been credited with serving up a nice little novella.   But this one goes on a bit too long and, strangely enough, it’s hard to spot the author’s legal training in the telling.

The reader seeking a fun novella in this genre might like Denis Johnson’s campy Nobody Move, just released in trade paperback form.   Or novels like Try Fear or Try Darkness by the highly talented James Scott Bell.   And then there’s True Blue by David Baldacci.   All of these are rides in a fastback mid-engine Porsche compared to Green’s tale, which felt to this reviewer like a ride down the block on a Vespa.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from Grand Central Publishing.

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Almost Innocent

Innocent by Scott Turow (Grand Central Publishing)

No one writes better courtroom dramas than Scott Turow.   In Presumed Innocent, he told the story of chief Deputy District Attorney Rusty Sabich.   When Sabitch’s mid-western boss loses his election bid, Sabich – who is married – is charged with the murder of a former colleague-mistress.   His prosecutor is Tommy Molto, a lawyer who started in the office at the same time as Sabich.

With this novel published in 1987, Turow created a new genre, the crime novel with the shocking and surprising ending.   All of a sudden a number of novels ended with an unexpected twist and such endings came to be known as “Turow-style endings.”   One of the best examples of the application of Turow’s style was Tell No Lies by Julie Compton.

Now, after these many years, Turow has done something he said he would never do, which is to provide us with a sequel to Presumed Innocent.   Boomers are going to buy it by the millions no matter what the reviews might say.   As one avid reader said to this reviewer, “Everything Turow writes is going to be big.”

With Innocent, we reconnect with Rusty Sabich who is now a state appeals court judge seeking a seat on the state’s Supreme Court.   Things look promising for Sabich, except that his brilliant wife has been quite ill and he’s once again made the mistake of taking a mistress – one who is literally his lawyer son’s age.   When Sabich’s wife dies in bed, he stays with the body for 24 hours before contacting the police.   This is rather odd behavior for a judicial officer, and Tommy Molto – the man who unsuccessfully prosecuted Sabich earlier – now sees a chance for a re-match.

So, yes, this is a re-mix of the earlier story contained in Presumed Innocent.   The protagonist and the main characters remain the same, if only older (an aspect of the story that Boomers will latch onto).   No one, however, appears to be any the wiser.

As always with Turow, the courtroom scenes soar even if the rest of the telling is more down to earth.   Turow presents the criminal justice system as a gritty one where normal people are “caught in the thresher called justice.”   This is not your sanitized version of justice.   At one point a fellow prosecutor suggests a theory of Mrs. Sabich’s death to Molto and he shakes his head in disdain:  “It sounded like Law and Order.   A little too tidy.”

In real courtrooms, justice is not tidy, pretty or predictable.   If there is one thing that Mr. Turow should be credited with, it is with getting this message out.   The criminal justice system is staffed with dedicated and talented professionals, but often even they cannot see what’s coming around the next corner.   In Innocent, prosecutor Molto is doing a bang-up job examining Sabich until he makes a cardinal mistake, asking a question for which he does not know the answer.

Little more should be divulged about the plot except to say that the story is resolved before one arrives at the final page.   This will likely surprise some of Turow’s fans, but he has matured and has no need to make use of the literary device he invented.   Is Innocent just as good a read as Presumed Innocent?  

In the opinion of this reviewer, Innocent comes off as a four-fifths scale version of Presumed Innocent.   Which means it is nevertheless better than 95 or so percent of the courtroom dramas you can find out there.   See, no surprise here.

Highly recommended.

Innocent was released by Grand Central Publishing on May 4, 2010.   A review copy was provided by Grand Central/Hachette Book Group.

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A New Giveaway

“No one writes better mystery suspense novels than Scott Turow.”   Los Angeles Times

The good news is that Innocent, the new novel by Scott Turow will be released on May 4, 2010.   This is the sequel to Presumed Innocent, originally published in 1987.   Innocent is another great courtroom drama from Turow, but you may more fully appreciate the sequel if you’ve read the initial part of the story, Presumed Innocent.   Because of this, and thanks to Valerie at Hachette Book Group USA, we’re going to give away 3 trade paperback copies of Presumed Innocent!

Rusty Sabich is a married chief deputy district attorney in a city in the Mid-West who supports his boss’s re-election as D.A.   But his boss loses the election and suddenly Rusty finds himself charged with the brutal murder of Carolyn Polhemus, a fellow prosecutor and former mistress.   Rusty’s prosecution is going to be handled by the his long-time friend and professional rival, Tommy Molto.   Did Sabich kill Polhemus or is he the subject of a political and personal vendetta?   You will have to read Presumed Innocent to find out.   

Here are a couple of the comments that accompanied the original release of Presumed Innocent:   

Presumed Innocent is an achievement of a high order – with marvelous control and touch, an awesome capacity to assemble and dispense (and sometimes withhold) evidence, and a cast of characters who are dismayingly credible.   Nobody who picks it up is going to lay it down lightly.   Wallace Stegner

After two days of non-stop reading I put down Scott Turow’s novel feeling drained, exhilarated and sorry it was over.   Presumed Innocent is one of the most enthralling novels I have read in a long, long time.   Turow has created a world that makes everyday reality feel naive and mundane.   Pat Conroy

In order to win a newly-released copy of Presumed Innocent, all you need to do is to post a comment here or send an e-mail with the heading “Presumed Innocent” to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   In order to enter a second time, tell me what the best book is that you’ve read recently and why you enjoyed it.   The deadline to enter is Friday, May 14, 2010 at midnight PST.  

In order to win a copy of Presumed Innocent you must live in the United States or Canada and have a residential mailing address.   Books will not be mailed to P.O. boxes.   This is it for the contest rules.

Good luck and good reading!

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