Book Review: Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow

I don’t read many courtroom thrillers, but after reading Presumed Innocent I think I need to add some more to my reading list! It’s packed with suspense and kept me guessing until the end.

I read Presumed Innocent as part of the 2020 Thoughtful Reading Challenge. January’s challenge is to read (or re-read) the first book in a series.

I’m going to cheat a little and use the library’s description: “The novel that launched Turow’s career as one of America’s pre-eminent thriller writers tells the story of Rusty Sabicch, chief deputy prosecutor in a large Midwestern city. With three weeks to go in his boss’ re-election campaign, a member of Rusty’s staff is found murdered; he is charged with finding the killer, until his boss loses and, incredibly, Rusty finds himself accused of the murder.”

Rusty has a lot going on his head. His father was emotionally abusive and his mother was psychologically fragile. These circumstances shaped Rusty into an emotionally needy man. First, he fixated on his wife (who is herself a bit of a mess), then he devoted himself to his boss (daddy issues, anyone?), and then he had an obsessive affair with Carolyn, the murder victim. Because Rusty is the narrator, we hear a lot about what he’s thinking and feeling. It adds to the atmosphere, and makes you wonder if he finally snapped and killed Carolyn. (He’s an unreliable narrator and never tells the reader, “I didn’t do it,” making him a viable suspect until the very end.) I suppose I should have been more sympathetic to Rusty, but I couldn’t get past his really weird obsession with a tacky, unethical colleague. It made him unlikable to me.

The case against Rusty is based on very circumstantial evidence. It was so circumstantial that I wondered if a prosecutor would actually go to court with it. Nonetheless, the action in the courtroom is riveting. Rusty is represented by my favorite character in the book, Sandy Stern, a wise, genteel Latino man who skillfully teases out incompetency, corruption, and dishonesty as he cross-examines witnesses and battles with prosecutors before a larger than life judge. It’s a battle of wits, with many satisfying twists and turns.

Some people understandably don’t like unreliable narrators. In the wrong writer’s hands, it can be a trust-busting gimmick. But I think Scott Turow handled it well. If you’re paying attention, you pick up on Rusty’s unreliability pretty early in the book, and it adds to the suspense. What isn’t he telling us? Did he do it? What about the fingerprints? And, in due time, all the questions are answered just when we need to know.

I really enjoyed Presumed Innocent and recommend it to people who like good mysteries or legal thrillers. It’s the first book in Turow’s 10 book Kindle County series. The second book, The Burden of Proof, is about defense attorney Sandy Stern, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Did you read the first book in a series this month? Tell us about it in the comments section.

Also, if you know of any courtroom/legal thrillers I should add to my list please share!

12 thoughts on “Book Review: Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow

  1. I think I stopped reading after burden of proof, but I just didn’t know of any others. Really liked both.

    As a trial attorney, I have read more than one book about lawyers.

    I also remember loving a book called The Book of Evidence. I think it may have won the Booker prize. I highly recommend it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My New Year’s resolution of completing this year’s reading challenge is going well so far! I picked up “A is for Alibi” by Sue Grafton for my January challenge. I chose this series because I’ve always been curious if I would enjoy it. When I found out the heroine Kinsey Millhone lives in the general area I do and is around my age, I thought it would be easy to relate to social and geographical references throughout the story. Turns out that was true, making the story easy and quick to read. I will most likely pick the next book in the series, “B is for Burglar,” for my March challenge. Thank you for the fun reading experience!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Virginia! Glad to see you getting back in the reading groove! It’s been so long since I’ve read anything from that series that all I can remember is that she lived in a garage – a foreign concept to someone from the land of frigid garages!


  3. I really enjoy the books by Scott Turow. Great review.
    I decided to join the book challenge this year. The book I chose for January was the first of a series that I read several years ago. The book was At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope to re-read a few more books in the series if I have time this year.
    I have picked my book for February. Andrew Jackson by Ralph K. A deist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Susan! I read a couple of the Mitford books many years ago and I remember them being pleasant and full of decency. Thanks for reminding me about the series. And Andrew Jackson should be really interesting to read about!


  4. I remember reading Presumed Innocent many many years ago when it first came out and I was in college. I absolutely loved it! So, I decided to pick it up and read it again since I remembered a lot of the book but not the fine details. I completely agree with Michelle’s review – the courtroom drama is wonderful. Most importantly, I loved the ending of the book and did not see it coming. I always like a book that can surprise me all the way until the end. Great choice Michelle

    Liked by 1 person

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