Innocent by Scott Turow

Many years after being tried and acquitted of murder (in Presumed Innocent), Rusty Sabich is a successful judge and gearing up to run for the state supreme court. He has an edgy marriage to the manic-depressive Barbara and has a grown-up son, Nat, also a lawyer but tending more to academia than to the practice of law. Rusty would like to leave Barbara but does not dare, for stated reasons as well as the unstated one that readers of the earlier novel will know.
His hard-won equilibrium is destroyed at a stroke when he embarks on a passionate affair with Anna, a young intern from his office. The relationship has to end, in Rusty’s view, when his campaign for the supreme court begins in earnest. The drama generated is not of the predictable variety, though, as two shocking events occur in the aftermath, which see Rusty once again defending himself in court against seemingly watertight charges.
Innocent is a well-written, well-constructed novel. It has, for me, one insurmountable problem – none of the main chraracters is likeable or admirable, so it is hard to care very much how the court case comes out or who (if anyone) committed the crime. Rusty is smug and ambitious, sacrificing anything for his career. He’s a remote, distant parent and a controlling husband. Anna is emotionally dishonest in the worst possible way. Barabara is potentially colourful but reduced to a cardboard bit-part. The two prosecutors who have it in for Rusty and pursue a vendetta against him are not interesting in their own right – this particularly applies to Tommy who has many sections told from his point of view, each one leadenly repeating (usually more than once) the fact that he’s a happily married new parent.
Sandy Stern, Rusty’s lawyer, and his daughter Marta, are the characters with the most integrity and hence interest for me, but one only glimpses them through the perceptions of others. The other character with potential is Nat, Rusty and Barbara’s son; if the book had been more about him and less about the various other superficial people who seem mainly keen on manipulating events to their own advantage, I’d have enjoyed it more. As it stands, the cynical and self-regarding cast of main characters may represent a realistic depiction of modern American middle-class life (how sad if so), but while reading the book I could not care too many hoots about who did what, or whether or not they were found out.

Innocent (2010) at the publisher’s website. I purchased and read the Kindle edition of this novel.

Author’s website.

Other reviews of this novel: The Guardian, New York Times and the Huffington Post.


8 thoughts on “Innocent by Scott Turow

  1. Maxine – Thanks for this fine review. You pointed out something that’s so important (at least to me). If none of the characters is likeable, it’s hard to be interested in the outcome of a novel. I’m very sorry you were disappointed in this. Turow’s books are generally solid legal thrillers, so I’m sorry this one fell flat for you.

  2. I am sorry you didn´t enjoy this one more. I hope you have something better waiting for you on your TBR.

    This is such an important lesson for crime writers; if the readers don´t identify with anyone, they will not care about the plot or the solution either.

    This must be the opposite of “Total Eclipse” which I have enjoyed so much this week. I am going to write a bit about some of the best characters tomorrow though I won´t be able to do all of them justice.

  3. Yes, very good review. I liked the book a bit more than you did, as I like how Turow writes, but I understand your viewpoint. There was no character to identify with or like too much. I sympathized with the main character because he was wrongly jailed, and the unraveling of the plot was interesting–although one could figure out what happened fairly soon.

  4. It is perhaps in crime fiction that the artifice of plot construction is most noticeable—I mean the generally artificial nature of narrative itself, which has rightly been pointed out is not actually how human consciousness works. In legal proceedings, a narrative is constructed by both prosecution and defense, and whichever narrative is most believable, or least doubtful in the case of the reasonable doubt approach, is the one that convinces the jury—and the reader. Some of the best courtroom fiction I’ve read subverts narrative, and reveals that a criminal got away with crime simply by being a very convincing storyteller. (Which seems to be Rusty’s role as a character.) It’s horrible because the legal system is based on discovering the truth, yet innocent people DO get jailed (and guilty ones evade jail) simply because they don’t construct a good enough narrative.

    I completely agree with you about the cynical and narcissistic nature of the characters in much American lit fiction—which is the main reason so much of it doesn’t interest me anymore. It’s also why I think some famous literary writers, such as Philip Roth, are so highly overrated. I rarely like any of the characters in these kinds of books—so why subject myself to reading something I know I won’t like? Why spend the time on something distasteful? Is it out of some post-Puritan idea that reading unentertaining and turgid fiction about unlikable characters is good for one’s soul?

    I think I’d rather go re-read Raymond Chandler.

  5. In a funny kind of way this book is not “crime” fiction, as the “solution” is tossed off in a rather insulting (to the reader) way at the end, and is frankly silly – the perpetrator and the timing, given the celebratory day that had just passed.
    So, the book depends on one’s interest in the writing, characterisation etc – and for me, though I appreciate the talent of the author as a writer, the characterisations – yuk, what a dull and pompously self-regarding collection.

  6. I enjoyed the writing and the characters, although I think the ending was obvious at a certain point.
    Have you read Michael Connelly’s “The Reversal,” which I’m in the midst of reading and enjoying? It alternates between defense-attorney-turned-prosecutor Mickey Haller and one of our favorite police detectives Harry Bosch? It reminds me why I like Connelly and why he is a favorite crime fiction writer for many people.

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