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

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….“…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.

* * * * * * * * *

….One moment the sun had shone, then we were abruptly thrust into the devil’s playground as the squall hit us like a shield wall. The ship shuddered, water and wind and gloom smashing us in sudden turmoil and Heahengel swung to the blow, going broadside to the sea and nothing I could do would hold her straight, and I saw Leofric stagger across the deck as the stærbord side went under water. ‘Bail!’ I shouted desperately, ‘bail!’ And then with a noise like thunder, the great sail split into tatters that whipped off the yard, and the ship came slowly upright, but she was low in the water, and I was using all my strength to keep her coming round, creeping round, reversing our course so that I could put her bows into that turmoil of sea and wind, and the men were praying, making the sign of the cross, bailing water, and the remnants of the sail and the broken lines were mad things, ragged demons, and the sudden gale was howling like furies in the rigging and I thought how futile it would be to die at sea so soon after Ragnar had saved my life.

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….‘We are slaves because we are unable to free ourselves,’ Herzen once wrote. If there was one lesson to be drawn from the Russian Revolution it was that the people had failed to emancipate themselves. They had failed to become their own political masters, to free themselves from emperors and become citizens. Kerensky’s speech of 1917, in which he claimed that the Russian people were perhaps no more than ‘rebellious slaves’, was to haunt the revolution in succeeding years. For while the people could destroy the old system, they could not rebuild a new one of their own. None of the democratic organizations established before October 1917 survived more than a few years of Bolshevik rule, at least not in their democratic form. By 1921, if not earlier, the revolution had come full circle, and a new autocracy had been imposed on Russia which in many ways resembled the old one.

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….Across the room, near the window, there was a dressing table fitted with an oval three-piece mirror. The mirror was not quite closed; the upper edges of the glass glinted through the cracks like splinters of ice. In front of the mirror rose a small city of bottles: eau de Cologne, perfume sprays, lavender toilet water, a Bohemian glass goblet, facets glittering in the light… a crumpled pair of brown-lace gloves lay withering like cedar leaves.
….A couch and two chairs, a floor lamp, and a low, delicate table were arranged directly under the window. An embroidery frame, the beginnings of a pattern needled into the silk, was propped on the couch. The vogue for such things had passed long ago, but his mother loved all kinds of handicraft. The pattern seemed to be the wings of some gaudy bird, a parrot maybe, on a background of silver-gray. A pair of stockings lay in a heap next to the embroidery. The shocking embrace of sheer nylon and the imitation damask of the couch gave the room an air of agitation. She must have noticed a run on her way out and changed in a hurry.
….Only dazzling sky and a few fragments of cloud, hard and glossy as enamel in the light bouncing off the water, could be seen through the window.

(Nastiness Alert! Don’t be fooled by this quote – the book has subsequently been abandoned for being one of the nastiest little pieces of nastiness I’ve come across in a long time.)

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From the archives…

….The letters told Eilis little; there was hardly anything personal in them and nothing that sounded like anyone’s own voice. Nonetheless, as she read them over and over, she forgot for a moment where she was and she could picture her mother in the kitchen taking her Basildon Bond notepad and her envelopes and setting out to write a proper letter with nothing crossed out.

(Click for full review)

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 118…

Episode 118…

Hey! A massive drop in the TBR this week – down 2 to 194! Admittedly this is because I abandoned one (hundreds of pages of present tense – ugh! Just couldn’t take it…) and discovered a duplicate in the list. But it’s still a reduction, right? Right!! And outstanding review copies have also fallen 2 to 33 (yeah, OK, it’s the same 2, smartypants – I admit it). So there can be no doubt about it… I deserve a medal!

Here are a few that will soon reach the top of the pile…

Crime

Courtesy of NetGalley. I don’t know much about the Lizzie Borden case except for the little rhyme – Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41“. So I’m intrigued to read this fictionalisation of the case, which is getting good reviews…

The Blurb says: In this riveting debut novel, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

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Fiction

Courtesy of NetGalley. I never know whether to count Turow’s books as crime or fiction, but this one looks like a bit of a departure from his usual American courtroom thriller, so I’m going with fiction for the moment…

The Blurb says: At the age of fifty, former prosecutor Bill ten Boom has walked out on everything he thought was important to him: his law career, his wife, Kindle County, even his country. Still, when he is tapped by the International Criminal Court–an organization charged with prosecuting crimes against humanity–he feels drawn to what will become the most elusive case of his career. Over ten years ago, in the apocalyptic chaos following the Bosnian war, an entire Roma refugee camp vanished. Now for the first time, a witness has stepped forward: Ferko Rincic claims that armed men marched the camp’s Gypsy residents to a cave in the middle of the night-and then with a hand grenade set off an avalanche, burying 400 people alive. Only Ferko survived.

Boom’s task is to examine Ferko’s claims and determinine who might have massacred the Roma. His investigation takes him from the International Criminal Court’s base in Holland to the cities and villages of Bosnia and secret meetings in Washington, DC, as Boom sorts through a host of suspects, ranging from Serb paramilitaries, to organized crime gangs, to the US government itself, while also maneuvering among the alliances and treacheries of those connected to the case: Layton Merriwell, a disgraced US major general desperate to salvage his reputation; Sergeant Major Atilla Doby,a vital cog in American military operations near the camp at the time of the Roma’s disappearance; Laza Kajevic, the brutal former leader of the Bosnian Serbs; Esma Czarni, Ferko’s alluring barrister; and of course, Ferko himself, on whose testimony the entire case rests-and who may know more than he’s telling. 

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Crime

Courtesy of NetGalley again! I loved Koethi Zan’s debut novel, The Never List, so I’ve been waiting impatiently for her second. I have high expectations, but the second book is notoriously difficult…

The Blurb says: SHE’D DO ANYTHING FOR HER HUSBAND.

Julie has the perfect life

A kind boyfriend, loving parents and good grades. She has everything ahead of her.

Cora’s life is a nightmare

A psychopath for a husband, a violent father and a terrible secret. There’s no way out.

But one night, their worlds collide

Locked in an isolated house together, they must work out what has happened – and who they can trust to set them free.

From the bestselling author of The Never List, this is a breath-taking new thriller about the wife of a kidnapper and her relationship with his last victim.

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Crime on Audio

Courtesy of Audible via MidasPR. Having recently enjoyed my first venture into Maigret after many years, I leapt at the chance to listen to one of them on audio. The narrator is Gareth Armstrong, who sounds good on the sample…

The Blurb says: The thirty-seventh book in the new Penguin Maigret series. While keeping watch outside Mademoiselle Clément’s boarding house to await a suspect in a local bar robbery, a man named Janvier is shot in the chest. When Maigret, whose wife is away caring for her sister in Alsace, hears of the crime, he moves into the boarding house to solve the case. But the web quickly grows ever-more tangled, and Maigret must navigate generations-long secrets and a torrid affair to find his answers before it’s too late.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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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

TBR Thursday 7…

Episode 7

 

Since I can’t possibly add any more to the heaving, tottering pile of books waiting to be read, there will be no TBR Thursday winner this week. So instead here’s a few of the books that I’m looking forward to reading over the next couple of months…

Courtesy of NetGalley:

 

the cave and the lightThis falls into the ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’ category, also known as the ‘what was I thinking?’ genre. However it’ll either be great or I will simply remind myself that suffering is good for the soul…apparently…

“Arthur Herman has now written the definitive sequel to his New York Times bestseller, How the Scots Invented the Modern World, and extends the themes of the book—which sold half a million copies worldwide—back to the ancient Greeks and forward to the age of the Internet. The Cave and the Light is a magisterial account of how the two greatest thinkers of the ancient world, Plato and Aristotle, laid the foundations of Western culture—and how their rivalry shaped the essential features of our culture down to the present day.”

*****

identicalAlready out in the US, but not yet published in the UK. I’ve been a fan of Scott Turow from way back when, although he is variable. But when he’s good, he’s very, very good…

“The Gianis’s and the Kronons. Two families entangled in a long and complex history of love and deceit . . . Twenty five years ago, after a society picnic held by businessman and politician Zeus Kronon, Zeus’ headstrong daughter Dita was found murdered. Her boyfriend, Cass Gianis, confessed to the crime. Now Cass has been released from prison into the care of his twin, Mayoral candidate Paul Gianis, who is in the middle of a high profile political campaign. But Dita’s brother Hal is convinced there is information surrounding his sister’s death that remains buried – and he won’t rest until he’s discovered the truth. A gripping masterpiece of dark family rivalries, shadowy politics and hidden secrets, Identical is the stunning new thriller from bestselling author Scott Turow, writing at the height of his powers.”

*****

smithAlthough this is nominally a children’s book, I first read it as a youngish adult and thought it was great. Now being republished as a ‘modern classic’ (gulp! am I really that old? – NB That’s a rhetorical question!) I’m interested to see whether it lives up to my memory of it…

“Twelve-year-old Smith is a denizen of the mean streets of eighteenth-century London, living hand to mouth by virtue of wit and pluck. One day he trails an old gentleman with a bulging pocket, deftly picks it, and as footsteps ring out from the alley by which he had planned to make his escape, finds himself in a tough spot. Taking refuge in a doorway, he sees two men emerge to murder the man who was his mark. They rifle the dead man’s pockets and finding them empty, depart in a rage. Smith, terrified, flees the scene of the crime. What has he stolen that is worth the life of a man?”

*****

Pre-orders:

 

sycamore rowA new Grisham is always a must-read – never less than good (except when he does one of his dreadful sports books) and often great. Unfortunately, it will be necessary to read A Time to Kill in preparation – so two for the TBR…

“For almost a quarter of a century, John Grisham’s A Time to Kill has captivated readers with its raw exploration of race, retribution, and justice. Now, its hero, Jake Brigance, returns to the courtroom in a dramatic showdown as Ford County again confronts its tortured history. Filled with the intrigue, suspense and plot twists that are the hallmarks of the world’s favourite storyteller, Sycamore Row is the thrilling story of the elusive search for justice in a small American town.”

*****


the goldfinchLike many other people I loved The Secret History and was disappointed by The Little Friend, so intrigued to see whether this will be a return to form…

“It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. “

*****

entry islandAnd finally, following his triumphant Lewis Trilogy, Peter May moves on to pastures new. As someone who has followed May through his China thrillers, his French series and the Lewis books (not to mention his career as scriptwriter/producer on Scottish Television), I felt the Lewis books were his best work. How will the new series compare?

“When Detective Sime Mackenzie boards a light aircraft at Montreal’s St. Hubert airfield, he does so without looking back. For Sime, the 850-mile journey ahead represents an opportunity to escape the bitter blend of loneliness and regret that has come to characterise his life in the city.

Travelling as part of an eight-officer investigation team, Sime’s destination lies in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Only two kilometres wide and three long, Entry Island is home to a population of around 130 inhabitants – the wealthiest of which has just been discovered murdered in his home.

The investigation itself appears little more than a formality. The evidence points to a crime of passion: the victim’s wife the vengeful culprit. But for Sime the investigation is turned on its head when he comes face to face with the prime suspect, and is convinced that he knows her – even though they have never met.

Haunted by this certainty his insomnia becomes punctuated by dreams of a distant past on a Scottish island 3,000 miles away. Dreams in which the widow plays a leading role. Sime’s conviction becomes an obsession. And in spite of mounting evidence of her guilt he finds himself convinced of her innocence, leading to a conflict between the professonal duty he must fulfil, and the personal destiny that awaits him.”

*****

All blurbs are taken from either Amazon or NetGalley.

What do you think? Any of these that you’re looking forward to too? Or are there other new releases you’re impatiently awaiting?

Crime of Privilege by Walter Walker

crime of privilegePower corrupts…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When Assistant DA George Becket is asked for help by the father of a murdered girl, he finds himself up against not only one of the most powerful families in the state but also his own guilt about an episode he helped cover up in his past.

This is a thoughtful legal thriller, more Turow than Grisham, and with some echoes of the world of The Great Gatsby – a parallel the author himself hints at; a world where the powerful use their position, patronage and wealth to protect themselves from the consequences of their actions; a world where corruption distorts every part of the system.

George is a flawed hero and knows it. As he finds more and more people whose silence has been bought to cover up a crime, he knows that he is no better than they are. And he knows that if he succeeds in finding evidence of guilt, he will be putting his own future, and perhaps even his life, at risk. But will his conscience allow him to make the same mistake he made once before? Or by finding the truth will he also find some form of personal redemption?

Walter Walker
Walter Walker

Written in the first person, we see the story through George’s eyes. His character is very well drawn as a fairly ordinary person struggling as much with his own weaknesses as with the corrupt world he inhabits, and struggling too to know whom he can trust. Well written and thought-provoking in its look at how power corrupts, the book also has plenty of action and humour to keep the story moving along. An enjoyable and interesting read and one that will encourage this reader to backtrack to the author’s previous work – highly recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link