“Innocent” by Scott Turow

InnocentMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

While he may not have invented the legal thriller, Scott Turow certainly helped usher in the era of the legal thriller twenty years ago with his best-seller “Presumed Innocent.” And while Turow has revisited some of the supporting characters of “Presumed Innocent” in his subsequent novels, he’s always avoided a direct sequel to the book that put him and the legal thriller on the map.

Until now.

I’ll have to admit I was dubious about “Innocent.” I’ve been burned too often by sequels written years later that come off as less like a natural continuation of a story and more like a money grab based on a familiar name or property.

All of those fears and doubts were dispelled within the first ten pages of “Innocent.” The novel did exactly what “Presumed” did twenty years ago–pulled me and didn’t let go until the last page was turned.

“Innocent” picks up 20 years after the events of “Presumed Innocent.” Rusty Sabich is back, serving on the appeals court and running for state supreme court. His professional life is going well and things with his wife Barbara are back on a more solid ground, though there’s an undercurrent of tension due to her on-going issues with depression. Rusty is tempted by his law clerk, Anna, who clearly flirts with him and makes it clear she’d like to see their relationship be something more. On the final day of her time as his clerk, Rusty and Anna begin a short-lived affair, with Rusty considering divorce from Barbara. However, Rusty eventually decides against it and ends the affair after a few weeks.

A few months later, Rusty’s son Nat contacts Anna about leasing her old apartment while he’s serving as a law clerk. Through a string of e-mails and meetings, the two have a chemistry and despite reservations from Anna, the two eventually become romantically involved. After several months, Barbara invites the couple to dinner. But are her motives as innocent as they appear? Has she discovered the link between Rusty and Anna and what will she do about it?

The next day, Barbara dies of what appears to be natural causes. Rusty waits 24 hours to notify the police and authorities, raising the suspicions of Tommy Molto. Molto is still stinging from the fact that Rusty was acquitted at the end of “Presumed” and is cautious about pursuing the case, for fear of looking like he’s out for revenge. Eventually, too much evidence turns up and it appears that Rusty may be getting away with murder twice. Rusty is arrested for murder and put back on trial for the death of Barbara.

Told from varying points of view, “Innocent” is a fascinating and compelling legal thriller, not only for the mystery of how and why Barbara died but also some of the ethical implications. The specter of Anna and Rusty’s short-lived affair as well as a slip by Rusty to a defendant in an appeals trial, hover over the entire book, driving the narrative forward. The question of it Nat will find out about his father and Anna’s affair keeps the tension going. Turow also trades off between point-of-view in the story–we get first-person perspectives from Rusty, Anna and Nat while we get third-person from the legal team of Molto and company.

As with the first book, it’s clear that Rusty has made some mistakes but whether or not he’s a murderer isn’t made clear until the final stages of the story. And even after that has been resolved, the implications of things and their impact on the characters is examined.

In short, it’s everything that made “Presumed Innocent” a classic of the genre. Not just the legal aspect, but also the character aspect. A superb follow-up.

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