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!