Presumed Innocent

It took me a while to write this review because my feelings on this book are so conflicted. On one hand, I thought this was a well-crafted legal thriller that kept me guessing but the misogyny and racism that was rampant throughout the book was hard to take.  I had to remind myself that this book was written in 1986 and the characters he wrote (lawyers, policeman, judges, etc…) would probably talk as he portrayed them.    There were also a few scenes in which acts of brutal violence were described that took me off guard and left me feeling sick to my stomach.  However, the mystery kept me guessing and the point of view writing style was interesting enough that I wanted to keep reading.

The story beings with Rusty Sabich, a prosecuting attorney, and the death of Carolyn Polhemus, another prosecuting attorney, whom Rusty had a brief, but passionate affair with months earlier.  He is initially assigned to investigate Carolyn’s murder but soon finds himself being accused of it.  The first half of the book is devoted to the investigation and arrest of Rusty while the second half is the trial.  I fear that writing more about the plot would give too much away but throughout the story, Rusty maintains his innocence while the reader is left to question, if not him, then who?

As I wrote earlier, there were moments and scenes that I found hard to take due to the graphic nature of the conversation or the awkward descriptions.  Even as I thought Rusty was innocent of murder, I found myself HATING him.  He was a child in a man’s body who only thought of himself and blamed everyone else for the bad things happening to him.  He was also a misogynist and viewed women based on their physical appearance and how attractive he found them.  He even described himself at one point as “male chauvinist of the year.”  He seems surprised when bad or risky decisions he makes end up causing people pain or to be hurt and he doesn’t seem to think that actions have consequences.   He at times describes to his therapist how in love he was with Carolyn and then begs his wife to forgive him, all while complaining that his wife has changed and isn’t the same woman he married.  I found him to be insufferable at times and found myself wanting him to be guilty.

To the good things.  The intrigue of”who dun it” kept me interested throughout the story and the introduction of the b-file and the mystery behind it kept me guessing.  The courtroom scenes were enthralling and based on other reviews, pretty accurate to what real cases look like.   The legal scenes were written well and weren’t too confusing to follow and I could comprehend why and when certain pieces of evidence were introduced to the jury and why certain things were omitted.  Due to the first person narrative, you believe that Rusty is innocent because he is literally telling you he is but there were moments that the reader begins to doubt whether we are being told the whole truth.  The nature of the murder lends itself well to the ultimate question the book is trying to answer:  if Rusty didn’t do it, then who did?”  The answer was surprising, but in a “why didn’t I think of that” way.  There are some well-hidden clues throughout the book but nothing overt that would lead the reader to guess right away who the murderer is. And because most of the characters are horrible people, it is feasible that any one of them could have had a hand in Carolyn’s death.

Overall, I liked this book simultaneously more and less than I thought I would.  I enjoyed the mystery but had a hard time with liking the main character and the racist and chauvinist language.

Author:  Scott Turow

Published: 1986

Rating: 3.5 Stars


2 responses to “Presumed Innocent”

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