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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Presumed Innocent - by Scott Turow - A review

Last week my friend Ananth Prasad, returned a bunch of my books that were with him for quite some time. Amongst them was a book that I did not remember having read. The age of the paperback was apparent from the brown color that the once white pages of the book now donned. It was a novel named "Presumed Innocent" by the author "Scott Turow".

Neither the title nor the author's name ring any bell when I first saw it and that made me a little skeptical about the book. Nevertheless, I decided to try it out and I am very glad I did it. Although very old, it turns out this book was somewhat of a hit back then and has even been made into a movie starring Harission Ford. Additionally the author is a pretty successful one with his books being translated into 20 languages.. !

It was very clear from the cover page design and the title that this is about a murder. The author doesn't try to hide this fact and starts the story with the murder of a women. There is no back story, no suspense, nothing. A woman is murdered, that's it. The protagonist is introduced as the guy investigating the murder, on a special request from his boss. The pace of story telling was also OK. It was not super fast-paced like the modern military/CIA spy thrillers. But it was not boring either. I was hooked to the book for the initial few pages when the characters were introduced and the initial scene/plot is laid out. But after that the pace just drops dead and I felt like I am reading the script of one of the Hindi daily soaps that my mother, sisters and aunts watch (In case you did not know the story barely moves ahead in a week's duration in those soaps). IMHO, the initial 150 pages could probably be all dealt with in just about 40 to 50 pages. Personally I am not really a big fan of overly descriptive narrations of mundane things like walking in the woods where the walker notices the rustling of the leaves and imagines something in those sounds or the collection of vague thoughts that the protagonist has when he has hit a low point in his life, etc. If it is descriptive narration it has to be something superbly imaginative and way beyond my own imagination. That's why I find descriptive narrative appealing only when I am reading a fantasy novel. Nobody does it better than JRR Tolkien. :).

Anyways coming back to "Presumed Innocent", at the end of that boring, slow paced section it is revealed that the protagonist, a character named Rusty Sabich, who was investigating the murder is actually now the accused. And then things start to get interesting. As expected, Rusty goes to the most famous defense lawyer, who undoubtedly was his arch enemy while working as a public prosecutor. Anyways, once the court room drama starts and things start to unravel it gets really gripping. At the very beginning you are given a bunch of data - some well known facts and some speculations and some extrapolated facts at that point in time. With that, and having read a bunch of John Grisham legal thrillers, I decide upon one of the characters as the murderer. As the investigation and trial proceed and more things surface, I can't help but to suspect some other character. This goes on for most part of the rest of the book. But as I proceeded I noticed that I never suspected a character for a second time. It was almost like an elimination process, bringing the reader closer to the actual murderer. After all this running around, it is revealed that my initial suspect is indeed the murderer. So that kind of saves me the "Holy Shit... !!" moment and instead leaves me a "Aah.. Damn it... I was right initially" moment. Although the ending wasn't very spectacular the journey was pretty awesome. So I guess in this case the means justify the end.. :P

There are two things that I specifically liked about this book :
1) The crisp and clear explanations about the legal procedures and jargon. It was interesting to know. Kind of helped me imagine myself in the story as apart of the legal system. Before reading this I did not know that the Judge played a very important role in a trial in a USA court. I always thought the Jury was the most important and the judge was only there to oversee the trial.

2) The whole story, plot, dialogues, character presentation, everything appeared very close to reality and not at all very flamboyant. Although this has been made into a full length motion picture, I would prefer to see this as an episode of "Law and Order" (that currently airs on FOX-Crime).

The story telling is not continuous. The protagonist is not active 24x7. When its weekend and its a holiday in the court, the protagonist spends most of his time at home and his lawyer also takes a break. The story just resumes on Monday, from pretty much where it left off on the previous Friday evening. In fact after the first hearing, nothing much happens before the trial date. This is pretty much how every episode of "Law and Order" is presented. And I like it that way. Makes it appear realistic.

All in all, it was a good read. In fact very good if I discount the initial slow paced part. Now I am very eager to watch this movie. Apparently the movie was also very well received. Next weekend I guess. :)