The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


August 14, 2011

Phyllis Seesengood, book review: Sequel to legal thriller pits characters in same situation

JOPLIN, Mo. — “Innocent” is the sequel to the classic legal thriller “Presumed Innocent,” by Scott Turow, published in 1987. I read “Presumed Innocent” 23 years ago but that is a long time between books, so I downloaded it from the Joplin Public Library’s website and listened to it again. I enjoyed Turow’s writing style and appreciated this novel even more the second time around.

In “Presumed Innocent,” prosecutor Rusty Sabich is asked to investigate the murder of a colleague with whom he had been having a secret affair. Tommy Molto, homicide chief, begins his own investigation and discovers that Rusty’s affair with his lover had ended months earlier. Rusty is indicted and stands trial for her murder.

The brilliant performance of his defense attorney, Sandy Stern, gains him his freedom; though there are people who still view Rusty with suspicion because no there were no other suspects for the murder and the crime went unsolved. However, Rusty does figure out the identity of his ex-lover’s killer and must live with that knowledge.

In “Innocent” Rusty, now 60 years old and a chief appellate judge, has mounted a campaign for State Supreme Court judge. His brilliant and attractive wife, Barbara, is reclusive and bipolar. The numerous medications she takes to keep her condition in check fill their bathroom medicine cabinet.

Barbara and Rusty’s marriage has endured mainly because of the love for their son, Nat. Again, Rusty has an affair, this time with Anna, a law clerk young enough to be his daughter.

This time Rusty is the one to end the relationship before his run for Supreme Court judge. Apparently almost going to jail for murder from his first indiscretion taught him nothing.

Nat appears to have his father’s taste in women, given that Nat becomes involved with Anna, his father’s ex-mistress.

Barbara dies under mysterious circumstances. The initial report concludes that she died of hypertensive heart failure. The fact that Rusty waited 24 hours to call anyone, even their son Nat, after he woke up to find her dead beside him in bed makes him the prime suspect for murder.

Urged on by his chief deputy Jim Brand, Tommy Molto, Rusty’s old enemy and acting prosecuting attorney begin their own investigation. They believe that Rusty poisoned his wife and waited for the poison to get though her system, while getting rid of any evidence.

Events soon point in Rusty’s direction and he is arrested and charged with his wife’s murder. Rusty calls on his former criminal defense attorney Sandy Stern to defend him against murder charges for a second time.

Much of the courtroom drama focuses on technology that wasn’t present 20 years ago -- DNA as well as web searches and emails of Rusty’s computer.

You don’t have to read “Presumed Innocent” to enjoy the sequel but I definitely think that it adds background. Besides, it is excellent if you enjoy legal thrillers.

Turow wrote “Presumed Innocent” in the first person from Rusty’s point of view. In “Innocent,” he uses multiple perspectives that shift primarily between Rusty, Nat, Molto and Anna to tell the story. The switch between characters and time is a little confusing at first, but it provides depth to some of those familiar faces you meet in the first book.

The characterizations are complex -- some more than others. Tommy Molto has changed the most from the first novel. In his later years, Tommy married a woman he adores, has a young son and has mellowed over the years. Sandy Stern, Rusty’s attorney, has cancer and is quite frail.

Turow tells a compelling story in his trademark eloquent prose that keeps you guessing until the end. The psychological courtroom drama offers dramatic plot twists and surprising revelations.

Both novels are available at the library in print and downloadable formats. “Innocent” is also available in disc format.

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