I wasn’t really looking to read another legal-eagle book after recently reading The Justice Game and Innocent, and this book may have suffered in comparison to those. In brief, on the eve of execution of Donte Drumm for a murder he swears he never committed, a serial rapist surfaces to confess to a Lutheran minister that he is the real killer. But will he agree to make his story public, will anyone believe him, and will it be enough to prevent Donte’s execution? Grisham’s characters tend to be fairly one-dimensional, and I never felt like I knew any of them well enough to really feel engaged with their struggle. At the same time, the book is unabashedly anti-death penalty (to the point of heavy-handedness at times), and the look inside a dysfunctional justice system was horrifying, to say the least.
It was not my original intention to read these two legal thrillers back to back, but circumstances conspired to make it so. I downloaded the Kindle version of the Singer book for free as part of Amazon’s limited-time offers, and shortly after starting to read it, I received a notice from our local library that the e-book version of the Turow book, which I had been on the waiting list for, was available. In the end, though, reading them consecutively gave me an interesting chance to compare the two authors’ styles.
I was not at all familiar with Singer’s other works, of which there are apparently quite a few. The story unfolded smoothly, and the characters were pretty well-drawn and interesting. The premise was unusual. Justice Inc. is an organization that conducts “shadow trials” of big cases in order to come up with the expected outcome in time for its corporate clients to sell/buy stock and make a profit. When two of its “alumni” lawyers meet up on opposite sides of a landmark gun-control case, they find themselves being manipulated by a blackmailer and have to find a way to do what he commands in order to protect their personal secrets.
It’s a sad commentary on our times that I found the idea of an organization such as Justice Inc. completely plausible, but my credulity was strained at the coincidence that two young lawyers would both not only be alumni of the same organization but also have deep, dark secrets in their past that would tempt them to cooperate with a blackmailer influencing the case. Far more interesting was the actual case, a debate on whether gun manufacturers are responsible when criminals use their product to commit a crime. In an introduction, Singer says he was at pains not to promote one side over the other, and he does allow both sides to make strong points. In a real-life nod to the Justice Inc. he created for the narrative, Singer says he presented the case to his own “shadow jury”, and the outcome of the book’s trial reflects the decision of that focus group. Overall, it was an interesting, enjoyable read, although it felt a bit preachy at times. I would definitely consider reading other books written by Singer.
Turning to the Turow book, I had higher expectations. I read Presumed Innocent when it was first released many years ago, and knew that this book was a sequel of sorts, focusing once again on then-prosecutor and now-judge Rusty Sabich. I will confess to doing a quick fact check on Wikipedia, because while I remembered that Presumed Innocent ended with an explosive twist, I couldn’t quite remember what it was! (This is much more a commentary on my lousy memory than on Turow’s writing.) But once I refreshed my memory on the essential points, I dove into Innocent and managed to consume it in relatively short time.
Turow creates memorable characters, but where he really shines is the legal back and forth, both inside and outside the courtroom. Innocent alternates viewpoint between Rusty, his son Nat, his former law clerk Anna, and Tommy Molto, the current prosecuting attorney who has a long personal and professional history with Rusty. Like the first book, this one also revolves around a startling twist, not quite as jaw-dropping but one that passes the test of making sense even after you’ve finished the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and look forward to reading more from Turow.