Review: Presumed Innocent

4 Aug

Scott Turow’s 1987 novel Presumed Innocent is one of those books that I should have read a long time ago and just never got around to it. Certainly not in the same vein as my Must Read: Classics list, but the book essentially created the legal thriller and since that’s one of my favorite guilty pleasure genres, it felt a little sacrilegious that I’d never picked this one up. Especially considering the fact that my parents own two copies, one of which was autographed a few years back, probably at the National Book Festival here in DC.

The Wikipedia synopsis:

The novel begins with the discovery of Carolyn Polhemus dead in her apartment. Rusty Sabich is a prosecutor and co-worker of Carolyn and assigned her case by the district attorney. The story is complicated by the fact that Rusty is an ex-lover of Carolyn’s and assigned her case. The novel follows the eventual discovery of their affair and the trial of Rusty for her murder.

Remembering that this book was written in 1987, and that it created a lot of those elements of legal dramas that are now considered cliché, was something I struggled with quite a bit. Because characters that are tried and true elements of procedurals — both in print and on TV — like the ambitious and shark-like DA and the rough-around-the-edges, suspicious, but noble cop, were not clichés when Turow created them.

That being said, Presumed Innocent still managed to surprise me. The writing holds up after 25 years, and the twists and turns that the plot makes are familiar, but still unexpected. Turow does a great job of hinting at the final shocker, but until it was actually laid out, I didn’t quite know what was coming — success for a genre that’s been done up and over done by more authors than I can count. (Also, I had no idea that a movie starring Harrison Ford was made in 1990. Considering I was only six at the time, I guess it’s not that surprising, but still…)

I read this after getting an ARC review copy signed by Turow of the sequel, Innocent, at BEA in May. I do want to read the follow-up soon, but I’m worried that 23 years later, Turow will take advantage of the tried-and-true elements of legal fiction and what felt like originality in 1987 will feel stale in 2010. I’m crossing my fingers that this won’t happen though. If Turow can write a book 23 years ago that stands up to scrutiny now, I’m fairly confident that his sequel will be successful as well.

This review actually is well-timed — not intentionally, you don’t think I’m that on the ball, do you? NPR just released their Top 100 Thrillers list and, whadda you know? Presumed Innocent is number 28. I’m really loving this list — even though I’m annoyed at the lack of female authors on it — and despite the fact that I’m a notorious ninny about anything in the horror genre (though movies are much worse), I feel like The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (#1 on the NPR list) is worthwhile enough to add to my Must Read: Classics list. That’s a modern classic, right? Also, inexplicably, the list has pointed out some gaps in my list — how is that even possible?! There are over 200 books on it! — like The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

My favorite titles on the list? A toss-up between Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (19 DAYS!!!) and Tana French’s In the Woods. And of course the Millenium Trilogy by Steig Larsson, but that’s kind of a given. Any books you would have liked to see on that list? Any that you’re surprised by?

Personally I would have loved to have seen Out by Natsuo Kirino or The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery by Alan Bradley on the list. If you haven’t read either of these, I highly, highly recommend both, even though they’re vastly different.

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4 Responses to “Review: Presumed Innocent”

  1. Malnurtured Snay August 4, 2010 at 11:21 am #

    Although not by CAD, have you read Arthur & George by Julian Barnes?

    Silence of the Lambs was great, read it last October. Surprising how true the movie stayed to the book.

    • Rachel August 4, 2010 at 11:24 am #

      Umm yeah, I’ve never see the movie, nor do I plan on it. Remember, I’m a ninny.

      I do have Arthur & George, but I’ve never read it.

  2. Kathy (The Literary Amnesiac) August 4, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    I just wanted to voice my support of you for not watching the Silence of the Lambs movie. It freaked me out pretty badly and I promised myself I would never, ever watch it again. I have purposefully avoided all things Hannibal Lecter since then. I’m sure the book is well written and thrilling and blah blah blah but we ninnies must stick together.

    I have both read and watched Presumed Innocent, though it’s been quite a long time. I remember the bit about the gardening tool (I hope that is not too much of a spoiler for your readers) and I do remember whodunit, which is amazing for me. You ought to give this movie a try. I don’t know, it may seem dated by now, but having Harrison Ford in it should be enough of a reason to see it anyway.

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