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.