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

Identical by Scott Turow

“We came into the world like brother and brother…”

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

identicalThe lives of the Kronos and Gianis families have been entangled for decades, first as friends and then divided by a feud that has lasted for over twenty years. But when the Gianis boys – identical twins Cass and Paul – grow up, Cass falls in love with Dita, daughter of the head of the Kronos family, a man who calls himself Zeus. During a picnic at which both families are present, Dita is killed and a few days later Cass confesses to the crime.

The book has a double time-line. The main one takes place in 2008 and begins just as Cass is about to be released from prison. The events of the day of the picnic in 1982 are told in flashback, in occasional chapters cut into the main narrative. By 2008, Zeus has been long dead, and the Kronos business empire is now headed by his son Hal. Hal has never been satisfied that the full story of his sister’s death has been told and publicly accuses Cass’s twin, Paul, of having been involved. Paul is campaigning to become mayor and is left with little option but to sue for slander, which he does, but with great reluctance. Hal tasks Evon Miller with the job of seeking evidence to back up his accusation.

“After Cass was sentenced, Paul was in actual physical agony for weeks at the prospect of their separation. But they had adjusted to life apart. People adjust to loss. And now he found dealing with Cass every day, and the similar ways their minds worked, with the same lapses and backflips, often unsettling. He had forgotten this part, how it inevitably felt like they were opponents on an indoor court, basketball or squash players, throwing their back ends at each other as they fought for position.”

There’s much less courtroom stuff in this than in most of Turow’s earlier books, and there’s been a bit of a generational shift in the characters. We catch brief glimpses of the old guard – Raymond Horgan and Sandy Stern both put in cameo appearances – but the focus of the book is on the investigation carried out by Evon and ex-cop Tim Brodie, both on the payroll of Hal’s firm. Evon is an ex-FBI agent who first appeared in, I think, Personal Injuries. Through the feuding families, Turow takes us into the Greek community of Kindle County – a close-knit group of immigrants and their descendants, holding to old traditions, and with bonds and enmities that are passed down through the generations.

Turow’s skill is in telling a story slowly, concentrating on each character in turn and giving a complete picture of them. Here he shows us Evon, struggling still in middle-age to find love and acceptance and dealing with a relationship that has reached breaking point. Through Tim and a couple of the oldest of the Greek immigrants, he looks with great empathy and insight at how differently aging can affect people. Love is a major theme in the book – family love, romantic love, lost love and, not least, the unique bond that binds the twins so closely that sometimes it is as if they are two parts of the same identity.

“All in all, his wife was the kindest person he had ever known – love seldom left her and she had filled their house with love like light. But in dying she became ornery and sharp-tongued, and frequently raised her voice to him, telling him that whatever he did was not right. It was a grief impossible to bear at the time, the raw unfairness that she had to die and leave as final memories ones of her being somebody else.”

The investigation rests mainly on forensic evidence, with the now familiar story of advances in DNA technology that make it possible to revisit old crimes. By a third of the way through, I was convinced I knew what had happened. By halfway through, that idea was blown out of the water, but again I felt I was on the right track and partially I was. However the end, when it came, did surprise me – but this isn’t really a thriller in the sense of a big explosive action-packed climax. With Turow, it’s more thoughtful than that – more of a concentration on the impact of the people involved and of the legacy in broken lives. I have long considered that Turow writes literary fiction rather than thrillers and this book strengthens that view.

Scott Turow
Scott Turow

I don’t think this is Turow’s best plotted novel, but as always loved the quality of his writing and the depth of his characterisation. Oddly, the weakest characters for me were the twins themselves and I found the resolution of their part of the story stretched my credibility a bit more than I like. But the Greek theme was handled very well, giving a genuine feel to this community within a larger society. And I loved the concentration on the older age-group – it means these characters have fully-finished lives; they are who they are, not what they might become. Although this is not, for me, Turow’s absolute best it is nonetheless an excellent book: thoughtful, a little nostalgic and of course beautifully written. Highly recommended.

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

Amazon UK Link
Amazon USLink