Testimony by Scott Turow

Much more than a legal thriller…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Middle-aged successful American lawyer, Bill Ten Boom, is having a bit of a subdued mid-life crisis. He has ended his marriage, not over another woman but simply because he felt there was no real love or passion in it. And he has given up his partnership in a big legal firm – a role he primarily took on to satisfy the aspirations of his ex-wife. So when he’s offered the job of prosecuting a case at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, he decides it’s too good an opportunity to pass up. The case involves the rumoured brutal killing of four hundred Roma in Bosnia in 2004. It happened near an American base, so the case is further complicated by the fact that the US, under George W Bush, pulled out of the ICC. First, Boom (as he is known) must establish that the atrocity did in fact happen, and if so, must then try to find out who should be held responsible.

Scott Turow is one of those writers whose books transcend easy genre definition. On the surface this is a legal crime novel with all the aspects of an investigation, suspects, clues, trial procedures, and so on. But it is also a careful, revealing look at the way the Roma have been dealt with throughout history, in Bosnia and elsewhere – a group at least as victimised as the Jews over the centuries but somehow still left under the radar of popular concern. Turow avoids the easy route of making the Roma seem too much like helpless victims though – he shows how their determination not to assimilate into the societies within which they live puts them in the position of always being seen as outsiders, who are often involved in criminal activity of one kind or another. He also discusses their cultural attitudes towards girls and women, which to our western eyes display all the sexism we have fought so hard to overcome. But Turow doesn’t do any of this as an information dump. It’s woven into the story as Boom himself learns about the Roma during his investigation, and as he becomes attracted to a woman of Roma heritage who is acting as a support to one of the witnesses.

We are also given a look at how the ICC operates: slow to the point of glacial on occasion, bound up in all kinds of procedures and restrictions, but grinding on in its efforts to bring justice for some of the most atrocious crimes in the world. Turow shows how the process can seem cold and unemotional, almost clinical in its approach, but how even this great legal bureaucracy can be shocked by some of the evidence that comes before it.

….“…I knew there was no point. I could claw at the rock the rest of my life and get no closer. I knew the truth.”
….“And what truth was that, sir?”
….“They were dead. My woman. My children. All the People. They were dead. Buried alive. All four hundred of them.”
….Although virtually everyone in the courtroom – the judges, the rows of prosecutors, the court personnel, the spectators behind the glass, and the few reporters with them – although almost all of us knew what the answer to that question was going to be, there was nonetheless a terrible drama to hearing the facts spoken aloud. Silence enshrouded the room as if a warning finger had been raised, and all of us, every person, seemed to sink into ourselves, into the crater of fear and loneliness where the face of evil inevitably casts us.
….So here you are, I thought suddenly, as the moment lingered. Now you are here.

The story also touches on the other big American war of the early years of this century – some of the errors and miscalculations that turned “victory” in Iraq into the quagmire of factionalism that is still going on today, with consequences for us all. But while Turow is perhaps grinding a political axe of his own to some degree, he also shows the dedication and sacrifice of so many US soldiers at all levels, and the basic integrity of much of the legal and even political classes. And if all that isn’t enough, there’s another minor strand about Boom’s European roots and the seemingly never-ending after-effects of earlier atrocities under Nazi Germany.

Scott Turow

Turow’s writing is as good as always – he’s a slow, undramatic storyteller, so that he relies on the strength of the story and the depth of his characterisation, and he achieves both in this one. If I have made it sound like a political history, then that’s my error, not his. Running through all this is an excellent plot – almost a whodunit – that kept me guessing till very late on in the book. He is skilled enough to get that tricky balance when discussing the various atrocities of bringing the horror home to the reader without trading in gratuitous or voyeuristic detail. And as well as Boom, he creates a supporting cast of equally well drawn and credible secondary characters. More political than most of his books, I’m not sure I’d recommend this one as an entry point for new readers (Presumed Innocent, since you ask), but existing fans, I’m certain, will find everything they’ve enjoyed about his previous books plus the added interest of him ranging beyond his usual territory of the US courtroom. Highly recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Grand Central Publishing.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

38 thoughts on “Testimony by Scott Turow

  1. Turow really is talented, isn’t he, FictionFan? And it sounds as though this story has several layers to it, which I always appreciate. I also like the way Turow discusses legal issues in his books. He makes the legal points clear to those of us who aren’t attorneys, but it’s never in a condescending tone. Glad you enjoyed this one as much as you did.

    • Yes, I love his writing, even though it’s much slower than a lot of what we’re used to. I always think his descriptions of legal life feel truer than most fictional representations, though I have no real way of knowing whether that’s true. This one was intriguing because he included the working of the ICC, which again felt very credible.

  2. This sounds very good indeed. The excerpt there is tremendously well written. I am quite tempted to seek out Turow’s work at some point, I must say! Also a lead character called ‘Boom’. What more could a girl want? 😉

  3. This book sounds really cool, and I love it when you can learn about random topics or history while enjoying a work of fiction. I can’t remember if it’s this blog that I posted this story in.l before, but I met Scott Turow. He’s extremely short and extremely pleasant. He stold me a story about writing his first major bestseller in his daughters hello kitty journal on his commute into work every day (I think he was a lawyer?)

    • Ha! Somehow Hello Kitty doesn’t seem like his style! I’d love to meet him – I bet he’d be interesting to talk to, especially with the legal background. It’s that too that makes his books feel so authentic, and this one was particularly interesting because he usually sticks very much to US courtroom procedures. Good stuff!

  4. For some reason I had a really hard time getting into this book and put it aside. I may try to return to it later, it could’ve been a mood issue for me which happens all the time:) Great review, glad to hear you enjoyed it so much and it led to late night reading…always the best!

  5. I certainly enjoyed Presumed Innocent and the sequel, but this sounds even more interesting, because it tackles an international issue. I’ve also heard there is a similar story about an event like that written by a Serbian author, so would love to compare the two.

    • I’ve always loved his books, but occasionally he gets into something that’s more than just a well-plotted legal thriller, and that’s when I always feels he excels. I’d like to know more about the one by the Serbian author too, if it’s been translated – this one was very much written from an American point of view, and though it shed quite a lot of light on Bosnia and the Roma, it was still fundamentally about the US and its involvement in the various wars – and its stance on international courts.

      • It’s not been translated into English, but the author is Jelena Volić and she writes a series of crime fiction books together with a German author Christian Schuenemann, all set in Serbia at about the time of the disintegration of Yugoslavia (or with consequences from those times). I think one of them has been translated, now that I search for it, but it’s not easily available, I fear:
        http://hauspublishing.com/fiction/cornflower-blue-by-christian-schunemann-and-jelena-volic

        • That sounds very interesting and happily it appears there’s a Kindle version available. Another one for the wishlist – ideally I’d rather read translations from local authors for my Around the World challenge than books written by Brits or Americans, though it’s not always easy to find them. Thanks for the rec!

  6. Sounds like a good one, FF. Drat, I can ill afford to bloat my TBR, not with summer right around the corner and so much tennis to watch … and play. Maybe if I sneak it on it won’t feel too crowded, ha!

    • Thank you! 😀 I always enjoy his books – they’re kinda slower and more thoughtful than a lot of thrillers, but he always manages to get me absorbed in them…

  7. “…he’s a slow, undramatic storyteller, so that he relies on the strength of the story and the depth of his characterisation…”

    I get wicked jealous that you know just how to describe each book in it’s own way.

  8. This writer is new to me and I very much like the sound of Testimony. On your recommendation, I’ll read Presumed Innocent first. Thanks for your thorough and interesting review.

    • I hope you enjoy it! The film is actually very good too if I remember rightly. I do like Turow – I always think his books are really as much literary fiction as legal thrillers.

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