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

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Then, too, subsequent poking around reveals that Rusty had consulted with a divorce lawyer just before Barbara’s death. He has also been followed to various hotels around town, where he stays for a couple of hours in the afternoon and then dashes away. That obvious sign of marital trouble is compounded when investigators discover Rusty has taken a test for sexually transmitted diseases.

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Bit by bit, Tommy, spurred by his hard-charging and ambitious deputy, assembles a murder case. Powerful drugs missed in the coroner’s toxicology scan, the fraying marriage, and revelations of Rusty’s affair point to him as the killer.

Of course, Turow never paints in black and white, preferring the gray skies that cloud so many Midwestern winters. Which means Tommy, not just Rusty, brings considerable baggage, political trepidation, and extenuating circumstances to the case.

To this heady concoction Turow adds a few more lethal ingredients, starting with the long-fractured father-son relationship between Rusty and Nat, an intelligent but troubled 28-year-old battling family secrets new and old.

The most delightful return is that of Sandy Stern, the dapper, cunning attorney who helped Rusty beat murder charges the first time around. Sandy faces travails of his own: lung cancer.

“I am devastated for both our sakes,” Rusty says upon hearing Sandy’s diagnosis. “His damn cigars.”

Sandy takes the case anyway, assisted by his protégé, Marta, who also happens to be his daughter.

Another young woman, a former law clerk to Rusty named Anna Vostic, serves as the perfect example of a good person torn by past misdeeds. Racked with guilt and uncertainty, she must work through legal and moral ambiguity as the stakes are ratcheted up.

Tommy, beleaguered and buffeted by insecurity and the occasional, slight misstep, is the novel’s moral center. Exhausted by endless bureaucracy and shaky ethics on all sides of the legal system, he has found unexpected contentment as a first-time father late in life.

Unlike Rusty, marital fidelity poses no challenge for him. “The idea of cheating on his wife was incomprehensible to Tommy, literally beyond the compass of any desire. Why? What could be more precious than a wife’s love?”

“Innocent” unfolds from the perspective of the various participants in the case, allowing the burden of proof and the burden of guilt to share the stage. Turow is a shrewd observer of criminal-justice machinations, as well as the inextricable links between the courts, politics, and the media.

What puts him above the standard judge-and-jury roller-coaster rides lining so many bookshelves are his devastating accounts of regret and rumination in all of his characters. It is, to borrow from William Faulkner, the human heart in conflict with itself.

Adding that internal conflict to ambition, sorrow, and righteousness — with murder, adultery and careers at stake — makes for an easy summary judgment: “Innocent” is anything but a guilty pleasure, it’s prime popular fiction.

Erik Spanberg is a freelance writer in Charlotte, N.C.


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