Mark Harris
June 11, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Pleading Guilty

Current Status
In Season
Scott Turow
Fiction, Mystery and Thriller

We gave it a C-

Like Woody Allen, whose muse keeps importuning him to make Serious Art rather than mere comedy, and Eddie Murphy, who just can’t help pursuing his true calling as a rock star, Scott Turow is a talented man who desperately needs to be saved from his own misplaced ambitions. In 1987 he gave us Presumed Innocent, a suspense novel whose gray-skies-over-Chicago ruminations were welded to a jackhammer murder mystery-a courtroom thriller that really thrilled. Turow followed that with The Burden of Proof, a turbid, morose mid- life crisis of a novel that offered scarcely a frisson of intrigue. Let’s not delay the bad news any longer: Turow’s newest, Pleading Guilty, is a book * by the author of The Burden of Proof. The setting, once again, is fictional Kindle (read Cook) County, this time within the confines of a massive corporate law firm, one of whose litigators has apparently absconded with $5.6 million in checks from an air-crash settlement fund. The hush-hush probe of his disappearance is handled in-house by Mack Malloy, a 50ish former cop with a face and a family that have both been split open by too many years of too much booze. Pleading Guilty is composed of Mack’s reports on the missing partner, read into a Dictaphone. Which leads, early on, to a pressing question: Exactly how many 50ish alcoholic ex-cops say things like ”The trail of headlamps and brake lights stippled the strip of highway, and an occasional building window was lit up by the isolated sparks of somebody else’s life being squandered in evening toil”? All of which would be more forgivable if Malloy’s from-the-bottom-of-a- shot-glass view of the world were in the service of an exciting plot. Instead, Pleading Guilty offers a standard variation on a story you’ve read before, in which a missing person is revealed to have a secret life. That’s all, folks. What makes Turow’s first novel in three years so frustrating is that, unlike several of his law-thriller competitors, this guy can write. Pleading Guilty does not read as simply a pit stop on the way to a movie deal. In Pleading Guilty he has polished the chrome, dusted the hood ornament, and monogrammed the hubcaps. Unfortunately, he forgot to fill the tank. C-

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