The Burden of Proof Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Based in part on the experience Scott Turow gained while working as a white-collar criminal defense counsel in Chicago, Illinois, The Burden of Proof employs a plot involving suicide and insider trading to explore the psyche of its protagonist, Sandy Stern. Narrated in the third person, The Burden of Proof consists of fifty chapters and is divided into three parts. Throughout the book, the reader shares Stern’s point of view. Although Turow uses flashbacks to illuminate Stern’s relationship with his wife, on the whole the plot advances in a linear fashion.

The Burden of Proof opens in a somewhat unorthodox fashion for a mystery, however, revealing in its first chapter that the pivotal event of the book, Clara Stern’s suicide, has already taken place before the action commences. As the book opens, Stern, who has just returned from a business trip, discovers his wife’s body slumped in the driver’s seat of her Cadillac in the garage, dead of asphyxiation. Stern, like his children and everyone else, has difficulty coming to terms with the apparent suicide of his upright, reserved, seemingly content wife. That Clara’s death was not accidental is confirmed when Stern finds a note in her handwriting that says, “Can you forgive me?” This enigmatic clue as to the reasons for her suicide is quickly followed by other equally ambiguous discoveries: Shortly before she killed herself, Clara wrote a check to an unknown payee that reduced almost to nothing Stern’s prospective share of her estate, and prior to her death, she had been taking medication for a venereal disease.

The scant evidence Clara leaves behind strongly suggests a desire to punish her husband. As the understated Stern tells a police officer investigating the suicide, “Lieutenant, it...

(The entire section is 739 words.)

The Burden of Proof Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Burden of Proof continues the story of Alejandro “Sandy” Stern, first introduced in Presumed Innocent as Rusty Sabich’s accomplished defense counsel. Like its predecessor, Turow’s second novel opens with a death, the mystery of which is not resolved until story’s end. In The Burden of Proof, the death is the suicide of Clara, Stern’s seemingly constant, reticent wife of thirty-one years. In his effort to unravel the reasons for Clara’s death, Stern must look to his own interior landscape rather than to the outside world.

The motivation for Clara’s suicide is not devoid of clues; she leaves behind a note saying only, “Can you forgive me?” Stern quickly discovers that not only had Clara been unfaithful to him but also that she had picked up a venereal disease in the process. What is more, shortly before she killed herself, Clara had written a check to an unknown payee that reduced almost to nothing Stern’s prospective inheritance from her estate. Stern is a brilliant lawyer in complete charge of a courtroom, but the understated attorney can only tell an investigating police officer, “Lieutenant, it should be evident that I failed to observe something I should have.”

One detail Stern fails to observe until late in the book is the connection between his wife’s suicide and the troubles of his brother-in-law, Dixon Hartnell. Hartnell is the owner of a brokerage house and Stern’s most...

(The entire section is 562 words.)