Is Rusty Sabich innocent again?

This week, the sequel to Scott Turow’s 1987 blockbuster Presumed Innocent will be on bookstore shelves.  Rozat “Rusty” Sabich, the deputy prosecutor of Kindle County, returns in Innocent as chief judge of the state appellate court. He’s 60-years-old now and campaigning for a position on the state supreme court. He’s also still seeding trouble for himself in an extra-marital affair, trouble that once again lands him on trial for murder. Not for killing his mistress, as it happened in Presumed Innocent, rather his wife, Barbara.

Such an idiot, I kept thinking in the first half of the book.  How can this intelligent attorney be so blind as to think he can get away with sneaking in and out of hotels with his young law clerk months before an election day with his name on the ballot? It’s cringing to observe his weakness, yet his affair with Anna and his stupidity are an integral part of the plot’s well-wrought tension. Even after Rusty ends the affair, it hovers ominously when Rusty’s son Nat, also an attorney, pursues Anna for romance.

Nat doesn’t know about his father’s brief tryst with Anna, and he’s perplexed by her resistance when they’re clearly drawn to one another. Eventually the two get involved, and Barbara invites the couple for dinner at the Sabich house. The day after the get-together, she doesn’t wake up from her night’s sleep.  Barbara’s death is ruled to be from natural causes, but the fact Rusty doesn’t call the police for 24 hours creates suspicion. More incriminating evidence rolls into the prosecuting attorney’s office, and Rusty is charged with murder.

There’s long history between Rusty and Acting Prosecuting Attorney Tommy Molto from Presumed Innocent, which complicates the accusation. Turow seamlessly revisits and summarizes this past, as well as other significant events from the first novel. I haven’t read Presumed Innocent, nor have I seen the movie with Harrison Ford, yet never for a moment did my voracious reading stumble because I didn’t recognize something from that past.

Surprising developments during the trial kept me on edge. This is courtroom drama at its intricately constructed best. Turow, however, does more than spin complex, entertaining legal scenes. He creates characters we care about.  I got as involved in the personal stakes and emotions of the cast as I did with how the murder would be resolved, to the extreme that I put down Innocent within 100 pages of the last page and began reading another book. I thought it was strange behavior, considering I was absorbed by Innocent, until I realized I wasn’t ready to leave Rusty, Nat, Tommy and the others, as they sparred in court and then went back to their offices to talk about what happened. 

A mere chapter into the other book, and I was hurrying back to Innocent.  I needed to find out if my guesses about “who killed Barbara” would be right. (They weren’t.) Of course, I gave in to reaching the end, and I arrived satisfied and breathless. Tommy Molto says at one point, “This trial is a runaway. Nobody knows what happens next.” That’s in fact what makes Turow’s Innocent so exhilarating. You just don’t know for sure until the end.

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