In January 2000, Illinois governor George Ryan -- disturbed by the number of death-row inmates being exonerated -- halted all executions and recruited a reform panel that included Turow, the lawyer author of twisty legal thrillers like ''Presumed Innocent.'' Instead of churning out pathos and politics, Turow offers a fairly rote essay on well-worn topics: the shortcomings of the system, the desire for revenge. While he employs a few pro and con examples (an innocent man he defended, a serial killer who might be better off dead), he doesn't disclose his own leanings until his last, anticlimactic sentence. The stab at objectivity makes this crafty novelist seem clinical, even about Ryan's astounding decision to commute the sentences of all the state's 167 death-row inmates. Capital punishment is a topic that should heat the blood, whatever side you take. Turow's treatment barely simmers.