Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"Identical"--Scott Turow's Books in Order

From the messy desk of Paul Levine...

Scott Turow’s "Identical" was released last week, and John Grisham’s "Sycamore Row" drops today. In the world of legal thrillers, Grisham is the king of the bestsellers, while Turow generally garners the better reviews. Grisham is regarded as the whiz-bang storyteller and Turow the deeper thinker with richer, more complex characters.

As this is written (and it changes hourly), "Sycamore Row" is the number one bestselling legal thriller on Amazon Kindle. "Identical" is second. (My latest, "State vs. Lassiter") logs in at a distant 54, but climbing).

Grisham, Turow & Levine...sounds like a law firm.  We are all trial lawyers by profession, with Turow the only one still practicing. (He’s an outstanding and eloquent advocate against the death penalty).

Let’s examine Turow’s body of work, as we did in this space with Grisham a few weeks ago. Turow graduated with high honors from Amherst, studied and taught writing at Stanford and graduated with honors from Harvard Law School. Bright, well educated, and most impressive of all, he performed with The Rock Bottom Remainders band, along with our own Ridley Pearson.

Turow’s books:

ONE-L (1977) Basically a journal of Turow’s first year at Harvard Law, it is still in print and required reading for anyone contemplating the rigors (and mortis) of law school.

PRESUMED INNOCENT (1987) My favorite legal thriller of all time. Prosecutor Rusty Sabich goes on trial for the murder of his colleague...and mistress.

THE BURDEN OF PROOF (1990) Sandy Stern, the defense lawyer in "Presumed Innocent," suffers a tragedy when his wife commits suicide and thus begins a journey of self-discovery and another foray into the criminal justice system.

PLEADING GUILTY (1993) Money and a star litigator go missing from a law firm, and it’s up to an ex-cop turned lawyer to find them...and trouble.

THE LAWS OF OUR FATHERS (1996) Judge Sonia Klonsky, from "The Burden of Proof" narrates a complex tale involving a murder trial. As is frequent in Turow’s novels, secrets of the past emerge in explosive ways.

PERSONAL INJURIES (1999) A P.I. lawyer with a penchant for bribing judges gets nabbed. Wearing a wire to trap others, he is supervised by FBI agent Evon Miller (who will re-appear in "Identical"). Their relationship is the heart of the tale.

REVERSIBLE ERRORS (2002) This one has it all: a man on Death Row, a reluctant defense lawyer, and possible new evidence that can exonerate the condemned. Not an original concept, but in Turow’s hands, a richly woven tale.

ORDINARY HEROES (2005) Family secrets are again at the heart of the story, but this one is a change of pace as a man searches for the truth about his father’s combat and court-martial during World War II.

LIMITATIONS (2006) The shortest of Turow’s novels, "Limitations" was originally published in The New York Times Magazine. A judge, a rape trial, and questions about morality are at the center of the story.

INNOCENT (2010) Rusty Sabich from "Presumed Innocent" is back. Now, he’s a judge having an affair...and accused of killing his wife. One of my favorites.

Which brings us to...

IDENTICAL (2013) A state senator runs for mayor just as his identical twin is released from prison, 25 years after pleading guilty to the murder of his girlfriend. The novel is said to take its inspiration from the myth of Castor and Pollux, identical twins born to Leda, after she was raped by Zeus. (I have to confess I had no idea Zeus was such a lout). Early reviews have been mixed. Writing in "The New York Times Book Review" last Sunday, Adam Liptak complained:

"‘Identical" is stuffed with so many themes and reversals that readers may end up feeling the way you do after a long family meal with too much talk and food: disoriented, logy and a little nostalgic. Turow has many gifts. He might consider being a little more parsimonious in doling them out."

At another point in the review, however, Liptak states:
"Still, the rich, sharp courtroom scenes, always Turow’s specialty, are the best parts of the book. He is particularly good at showing how judges use minor rulings to nudge a case to their preferred outcome."

Now, Scott Turow doesn't need my help selling books.  But, as always with reviews, it’s better to read the book...and make your own decision.

Paul Levine


  1. I remember when Presumed first came out. I bought it at the airport on my way to San Francisco for the weekend. I started reading it in the hotel one morning and didn't get out of bed the WHOLE DAY until I finished it. Magnificent. Now Scott is my Facebook "friend." I find that impossible quaint.

  2. I'd point to "Anatomy of a Murder" in the 1950's for bringing realism to the legal thriller. (Much more so than Perry Mason). But Turow brought a literary quality AND suspense. Paul Levine

  3. From Jacqueline

    Paul, I feel as if I'm being set homework - but your reviews make me want to fill the gaps in my reading. I haven't read Turow since One L, which I really enjoyed - now I'm going to start over with Presumed Innocent - maybe, like Patty, I will even stay in bed all day to read! Thanks for this post - great job!

  4. Presumed Innocent is the gold standard...IMHO. Paul