Tag Archives: Turow-style endings

This is the Day

Defending Jacob: A Novel by William Landay (Delacorte Press, $26.00, 432 pages)

William Landay’s courtroom novel, Defending Jacob, is interesting and engaging, but is it – as per the hype – this year’s version of Presumed Innocent?   Sorry, but no, it’s not.   This is one of those novels that comes down to the fake ending, where there are usually one or two twists that the reader didn’t anticipate or see coming.   But, this time around, the reader has to deal with three feints and it all seems a bit much.   The author is a graduate of the Boston College of Law, and I presume that at some point he heard an instructor state that, “The game is not worth the candle.”   That’s a law professor’s way of saying that a lawyer’s or judge’s argument is far too clever to be convincing; which is precisely the way I felt about Defending Jacob.

This is a story about a Chief Assistant District Attorney who takes on a case involving the stabbing death of a 14-year-old student at his own son’s high school.   It turns out his son is the prime suspect and, before you can sing a song by the 80s band The The, he’s banished from the office.   The next thing he knows, he’s the second chair to a criminal defense attorney who’s defending his son on a charge of murder.

“After a thousand years or so of refining the process, judges and lawyers are no more able to say what is true than a dozen knuckleheads selected at random off the street.”

“…it was a little late in the day to be switching sides.   I was not sure I could bring myself to defend the same scumbags I had spent a lifetime locking up.”

What Landay does well – quite well – is to express in a firm and gruff voice his doubts (as a former prosecutor) about the workings of the American criminal justice system.   But his protagonist Andy Barber comes off sounding less like a lawyer and more like one of those grizzled former cops who becomes a hard-shoe Private Investigator.   There were times, in fact, when I felt the story – set in 2007 – turn from color to black and white.   It sometimes seemed that, except for references to personal computers, I was reading something set in the 1950s rather than in near-current times.

Defending Jacob has its moments, but a better read in this genre is Tell No Lies: A Novel by Julie Compton, a taut courtroom drama that comes replete with “a surprise ending.”   That’s one surprise ending, not two or three.   Because when it comes to Scott Turow-style surprise endings, less is more.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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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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