Scott Turow all but invented the legal thriller with 1987’s unimprovable Presumed Innocent. Since then, he hasn’t exactly been the towering figure one would have expected — largely because he had real writerly ambitions and curiosities, and wasn’t, like the authors whose careers he made possible, content to keep filling boxes with the same cereal. Even Turow’s new Presumed Innocent sequel, Innocent, is not a slam-bang thriller but an unusually introspective and elegiac book. You may wonder, of course, if that’s a nice way of saying it’s boring.
Kinda. Innocent finds Rusty Sabich — a lawyer in Presumed Innocent and now a judge with a dreamy twentysomething son, as well as a young mistress — once again on trial for murder. It seems his wife, a brilliant, bipolar nightmare named Barbara, died mysteriously, and Rusty, even more mysteriously, didn’t call the cops for 23 hours. It’s a thrill to see the old faces again — Rusty is prosecuted by his nemesis Tommy Molto, and defended once more by Sandy Stern, now seriously ill — but the book feels strangely placid for all the ugliness at play. Turow investigates everybody’s inner lives almost too dutifully, and the novel has only one wild, creepy courtroom jolt.
Still, with Barbara, Turow has created a great, terrifying character out of some Greek tragedy, precisely because we see her so little in both books. And with Rusty and Tommy, he’s upended the traditional hero-villain dynamic. Tommy may be out to get Rusty, but he’s the true family man and the novel’s moral center. ?As for Rusty, he’s weak and selfish — and knows it. He may or may not be capable of murder, but he’s capable of ?just about everything else. B