Rusty Redux

Scott Turow revisits his acquitted lawyer.

July/August 2010

Reading time min

Rusty Redux

Photo: Jeremy Lawson

When Scott Turow set out to write a sequel to his 1987 novel, Presumed Innocent, he had to revisit the havoc he'd left in its final chapters. A marriage in ruins. Careers derailed, egos wounded, rivalries left to fester. Secrets were hung out like laundry.

Presumed Innocent spent 44 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, sold for $1 million to the movies and spawned a rash of imitators —lawyers-turned-authors who never conveyed human folly and courtroom antics quite as dramatically as did Turow, MA '74. The first of nine novels set in fictional Kindle County (it strongly resembles Chicago's Cook County, right down to the losing baseball team and the diverse ethnic names), Presumed Innocent established Turow as a novelist and gave him the freedom to practice law in ways that intrigued him. To return to a project that had done so much was both irresistible and daunting.

"I struggled with anxieties about daring to climb the same mountain I'd climbed so successfully as a much younger person," Turow says. "My kids are adults. I'm no longer married. I've gone from being a government employee who wrote [Presumed Innocent] in my unfinished basement to someone who has enjoyed success for more than two decades. I'm different in many ways."

So is the legal world he writes about. "The practice of law is not the same," he says. "The veneer has worn away. People realize that private practice is about money, and public practice is often about politics. These facts—which were demurely hidden from the public and sometimes, among lawyers, from themselves—are now in the open."

  Presumed Innocent Innocent
The Protagonist presumed innocentRozat "Rusty" Sabich is Kindle County's chief deputy prosecutor. At 39, he's brooding, ambitious and stuck in a stale marriage. He's charged in the murder of fellow prosecutor (and former lover) Carolyn Polhemus. innocentRusty, at 60, has landed on his feet: He's an appellate judge and a candidate for the state Supreme Court. Stuck in a stale marriage, he starts an affair with his 34-year-old clerk. He's charged in the murder of his wife.
The Wife Testy and brilliant, Barbara Sabich is furious about Rusty's fling with Carolyn Polhemus, but oddly supportive during his trial. Barbara has been devoted to Rusty and their son, Nat, despite her struggle with bipolar disorder. She's not only brilliant, she's diabolical.
The Nemesis Tommy Molto is short, overweight, disheveled. As the prosecutor bent on bringing Rusty down, he's the book's biggest loser. Molto, reasonably well-groomed and contented, is initially reluctant to try Rusty for murder a second time.
The Affair A slow, sultry burn, played by Carolyn's rules. When she wanted it to be over, she blew out the flame and was gone. Brazilian-waxed law clerk Anna Vostic teaches Rusty new pleasures. He feels "old, lumpy, bulging." Comeuppance is inevitable.
Salacious Evidentiary Detail Spermicide found in a victim who'd been sterilized. Old sperm sample could now be tested for DNA.
The Prosecutor Philosophizes on the System You must, at least, try to determine what actually occurred. If you cannot, we will not know if this man deserves to be freed—or punished. We will have no idea who to blame. If we cannot find the truth, what is our hope of justice?"
—Rusty Sabich 
A few tight little categories—guilty, not guilty, of this or that—to hold a universe of complicated facts.
 "We do a little justice, rather than none at all."

—Tommy Molto 

ANNE STEPHENSON is a writer in Phoenix.

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