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Presumed Innocent Mass Market Paperback – April 5, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Rusty Sabich's boss, Raymond Horgan, is in a dogfight for the election with Nico Della Guardia, a former lieutenant. When one of their colleagues, Carolyn Polhemus, is found brutally murdered, Horgan gives Sabich the job. What Horgan does not know is that Sabich and Polhemus had been involved in an affair, which ended badly. Only Sabich's wife, Barbara, knows about the affair, and she has as much trouble dealing with her husband's obsession over the dead woman as she did with the affair. Sabich begins the investigation but there are no suspects, no leads, and no hope of finding the killer. But when Horgan loses the election, Sabich is stunned to find himself the new administrations one and only suspect for the Polhemus murder.
The fact that Sabich was a prosecutor becomes a key part of the legal dilemma in which our narrator finds himself. On the one hand he can piece together the prosecution's case based, but on the other hand Sabich is well aware of how what he does in defending himself can add to his legal problems, especially since without proof of the affair the prosecution is lacking a motive to tie the circumstantial evidence together. This last bit is crucial to the novel's dynamic because we have our own reasonable doubt about Sabich's innocent. Even if we do not know that Agatha Christie had a first-person narrator be the murderer in one of her classic mystery novels, we have to entertain doubts about Sabich: his finger print is found on a glass in the apartment, there was a phone call from his house to Polhemus that night, etc. Sabich has reasonable explanations, but there are too many of them for us not to think that something is wrong here.
Sabich, along with his friend Detective Lipranzer, is pursuing some ideas as to who would want to murder Polhemus and frame him for the crime. But in the courtroom it is defense attorney Sandy Stern who carries the legal burden of Sabich's defense; provided he can get his client to stop acting like an attorney during the trial. But then the presiding judge, Larren Lyttle, is perfectly willing to give Sabich every courtesy. Lyttle is a defendant's judge, who is most insistent that jurors in his courtroom presume the innocence of defendants. That is the good news. The bad news is that Sabich learns Lyttle might be deeply involved in his alternative theory of the case. In other words, the judge is a potential loose cannon.
For me the strength of "Presumed Innocent" remains what happens in the courtroom. Stern's cross-examination of the coroner, "Painless" Kumagai is a wonderful set piece. It is the sort of scene that makes you realize how few novels set in courtroom ever manage to come up with really first-rate scenes. But what makes this novel so compelling is how well it keeps us guessing as to not only whether or not Sabich did the murder, but also whether or not he will be convicted of the crime. Even when one of those questions is resolved, the other remains unresolved until the final chapters of the book.
Scott Turow has not written a novel as good as "Presumed Innocent," and it seems unlikely he ever will. This is not because of his lack of talent (certainly he has not flooded the market with his novels unlike Grisham), but simply because he may have committed the unpardonable sin of writing his greatest book first (as Richard Adams did with "Watership Down"). I could live with such a curse.
Intrigue, romance, lies, betrayal, sex, murder, powerful attorney's and a story with twists and turns, this is a must read for any that are interested in the genre and haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Turow is a master at writing dialogue, it seems to flow naturally off the page and it makes all the characters believable and either likable, dislikable or downright hated.
I would certainly recommend reading this before seeing the movie if I had my choice, but don't skip it even if you already know the ending. The writing here is just plain excellent and I give this one a very strong recommendation.