Innocent, By Scott Turow

A seminal crime scene revisited
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Are sequels to successful novels really a good idea? Shakespeare ensured that there would be no further appearances for Lear and Hamlet, but there are different imperatives in the popular arts, and it might be argued that Sherlock Holmes and 007 were more engaging characters before their creators trotted them out once too often. So was Scott Turow wise to bring back the hero of his novel Presumed Innocent, some 23 years after that book inaugurated the legal thriller as a cash-cow genre?

Presumed Innocent was a blueprint for the field, with a fascinating mass of legal detail giving weight to its plausibility. The book was narrated by Rusty Sabich, a married prosecuting attorney. After the murder of his ex-lover, Carolyn, Sabich found himself accused of the killing, but the real culprit was close to home. It was a terrific book, but by penning a sequel almost a quarter-century later, Turow has made himself something of a hostage to fortune.

In Innocent, Rusty is now 60 and a senior appeal court judge. He finds himself once again accused of murder – and his disturbed wife Barbara is the victim. His old nemesis, detective Tommy Molto, is now a prosecuting attorney and rubbing his hands at the prospect of finally putting his quarry behind bars.

The most incriminating circumstances involve the fact that Rusty woke up to find his wife dead at his side but waited (without apparent reason) for a full day before notifying anyone. What killed her was an overdose of drugs, and Rusty had recently dealt with a case in which the same antidepressants were used. What is the reason behind his damning silence?

This is a pre-sold novel, such is the hold that its illustrious predecessor has on the popular imagination. And it is refreshing to report that Turow's narrative skills have not deserted him; he remains a consummate storyteller. He needs to be, as in this book Turow asks the reader to accept some fairly mind-boggling suppositions, such as the unlikely survival of the Sabich marriage after the events of the first book.

So was a sequel a good idea? While Innocent is not in the league of its predecessor, it is still a hugely professional piece of work, with an acute grasp of the psychology of its various characters – and also a useful series of pointers on how not to behave if accused of spousal murder.