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Rusty Sabich returns in this superb sequel to Scott Turow’s 1987 blockbuster, ‘Presumed Innocent.’

By Erik Spanberg / May 18, 2010

Innocent By Scott Turow Grand Central Publishing 406 pp., $27.99


People don’t change. Or maybe they do.

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In Innocent, Scott Turow uses that do-they-or-don’t-they notion to fashion a superb sequel to his 1987 blockbuster, “Presumed Innocent.” The earlier book became a bestseller, launched the still-popular legal thriller genre, and led to a successful movie adaptation starring Harrison Ford.

Even as John Grisham and dozens of others followed similar paths to the best-seller lists, Turow resisted the urge to repeat his winning formula over and over again. He took his time with each new novel, eschewing the book-a-year cycle publishers prefer for brand-name authors. Sure, Turow often stayed in his fictionalized version of Chicago, the corrupt and brooding Kindle County, but he moved on to much different stories, keeping readers off balance while keeping a close eye on developing characters interesting and intriguing enough to match his brisk courtroom plots.

With “Innocent,” Turow returns, 20 years later, to the scene of his breakthrough novel. Former rival deputy prosecutors Rusty Sabich and Tommy Molto, stars of the first book, are headed for another blockbuster murder trial.

Though “Innocent” is a richer read for those who have read “Presumed Innocent,” it stands alone with ease. Turow sprinkles in enough back story to reveal why Rusty, now an appellate judge, and Tommy, the acting prosecuting attorney, remain wary of one another.

Rusty, as millions of readers will remember, endured a searing murder trial in the earlier book. While he won an acquittal, he lost almost everything else. The rape and murder of Carolyn Polhemus, Rusty’s co-worker and former mistress, rocked his marriage and family.

Tommy presided over the explosive case against Rusty, navigating a maze of wobbly investigation and situational ethics before being censured himself for mishandling evidence. Although Rusty later helped Tommy get his job back, animosity lingers on both sides. Rusty resents Tommy’s continuing belief that he got away with murder while Tommy seethes over the acquittal and the collateral career damage it caused.

History, or, in this case, bitter history, repeats itself two decades later.

This time, Rusty is accused of murdering his wife, a miserable but brilliant woman who never recovered from the earlier trial – or the effects of her husband’s affair. For many years afterward, Barbara Sabich controlled and manipulated her husband and smothered their son Nat. Now Nat is out of the house and husband and wife live in a state of uneasy détente.

Six weeks before voters decide whether Rusty wins a spot on the state supreme court, Barbara dies. At first, her death is ruled to be of natural causes.
Soon enough, though, whispers abound. When Barbara died, Rusty sat in their bedroom, next to the corpse, for 23 hours before alerting anyone. He claimed shock and grief. Barbara’s unexpected, unexplained death fuels suspicion for other reasons as well. She was blessed with youthful looks and was known for her dedicated exercise regimen.


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