Tuesday 22 June 2010

Book review : Innocent - Scott Turow

Innocent is Scott Turow's sequel to his 1987 novel Presumed Innocent, which you may have read or seen on the big screen in the Hollywood adaptation back in the 1990's starring Harrison Ford. Even if you have no knowledge of the first episode, it is still a gripping read as a stand-alone novel though. I didn't realise until over halfway through that this was the sequel and had to refresh my memory of the original storyline.

We rediscover Judge Rusty Sabich, once again in the hotseat accused of murdering a woman, this time his wife Barbara. The previous episode, Presumed Innocent, saw him in the dock on charges of murdering his colleague and lover Carolyn Polhemus, ultimately being released without charge on a technicality due to badly handled evidence. Tommy Molto, who has never really got over the fact that Sabich didn't go down the first time, partly due to errors on his part, is now going all guns to get him this time, determined to send Sabich to jail for the two murders he is convinced he has committed. For those who have no knowledge of the first book, it is useful to know that we discover at the end that Barbara, Sabich's spurned wife, admits that she killed her husband's lover and planted the fake evidence that incriminated him.

We therefore come to this novel with a lot of unknowns. Barbara is a highly intelligent but also volatile and unpredictable woman, whose judgement is further clouded by her multitude of medications for controlling her bipolar disorder. Lightning doesn't strike twice so, even if he was wrongly accused last time, can it really happen again ? Why, on finding his wife dead in bed beside him, apparently from natural causes, does this legal expert neglect to notify the police and the coroner for 24 hours, by which time the autopsy will reveal a lot less ? Why on earth, come to that, is Rusty still married to this woman who murdered his lover and tried to set him up to take the blame ?! We are thrown in at the deep end, not knowing who or what to believe, so our role is to try to unpick all the differing narratives to construct a final coherent version that resembles the truth – rather like the jury in the courtroom.

The first part of the book is split into chapters that jump around on a timescale with three key points – Rusty's 60th birthday, Barbara's death and the election. The multiple narrators' viewpoints combined with the lack of chronology make it hard to keep track of things at times, but the little timelines drawn at the beginning of each segment make it slightly less impossible. Once all the background has been covered, the latter part of the novel, following Rusty on trial, follows the classic chronology. We have a serious sense of déjà vu as the trial mirrors the one in Presumed Innocent in the beginning.

The tension in the courtroom is palpable and Turow makes it very hard for us to guess the evolution of the trial. Several times, I thought I had it all figured out, only for my theories to come tumbling down as new evidence came to light and this sense of confusion and involvement in unravelling the web of lies and half-truths helps the reader to totally empathise with the lawyers on both sides.
Yet again, you will have to wait until the very end of the novel to find out who the real culprit is and how it all transpired. I was totally wrong – Turow really is a master of red herrings !

Turow has been hailed as the creator of the legal thriller genre, and Innocent is a worthy sequel to the original gripping episode.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £17.99

Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Mantle (29 April 2010)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0230748376
ISBN-13: 978-0230748378

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