A self-proclaimed ''death penalty agnostic,'' Turow had to cross-examine his conscience when he served on a commission charged with reforming Illinois' capital punishment system. Without a word of sermonizing, he delves beyond arguments about erroneous verdicts and the sanctity of human life to answer questions like, How does retribution differ from revenge? What are the costs of executing criminals versus locking them up for life? What kind of lives do unrepentant psychopaths lead in prison? What happens when they are released? What is owed to families of murder victims? Turow's talents as a novelist -- for telling a complex story with vivid characters, compassion, and humor -- make this book unforgettably illuminating. I find myself contemplating crucial contradictions within our patriotic ideals about ''liberty and justice for all.'' In a way, the very philosophy that empowers us as individuals has also deceived us about the capacity of the law to heal our deepest wounds.