Scott Turow Mystery & Detective Fiction Analysis
Scott Turow has said that he found much popular literature “just plain dumb,” while literary fiction was either inaccessible or uninteresting. He wrote Presumed Innocent in the belief that he could make the book “an island in between.” In his view of human nature, he has also sought a middle ground. The 1960’s were instrumental in shaping his initial idealism and making him aware of crushing social problems. The eight years he spent as a prosecutor further shaped his view of the law and of human nature. No longer totally a child of the Aquarian age, he confronted the truth that “there are some people who are incorrigibly evil.” However, he does not believe in Original Sin, holding instead that humans are maimed by early experience. As one defense attorney in Reversible Errors declares, “There’s just no point in giving up on a human being.”
A consistent theme in Turow’s work is that a human being has many sides and many motives. A criminal, like Robbie Feaver in Personal Injuries (1999), may commit crimes to provide for a troubled family. Prosecutors, like Stan Sennett in the same novel, may have admirable goals along with overbearing zeal. The tension between opposing traits in single characters is a large factor in the believability of Turow’s stories.
When Turow began writing, he saw himself as a writer who practices law, but he has come to see himself as a lawyer who writes books. He notes that his legal experience has provided him with material for fiction even as it has required him to become adept at a kind of courtroom storytelling. He contends that prosecutors in particular, because they bear the burden of proof, must present a case through various witnesses just as an author tells a story through characters. Like a traditional story, the prosecutor’s case must have a moral—the verdict requested of the jury.
Turow believes that, like himself, the American populace underwent a disillusioning experience in the 1970’s. It was the Watergate scandal that engendered close scrutiny of the legal profession (and incidentally increased public interest in the genre of legal thrillers). President Richard Nixon’s administration included many officials who, though trained in the law, faced indictment and prison terms as a result of the break-in and subsequent cover-up. Paradoxically, although individual attorneys and judges were no longer seen as models of integrity, it was in the courts that major questions of ethical and moral value were being decided.
Turow’s works are the products of a discerning mind, trained in law and literature, at pains to sift out various orders of truth. Generally, though certainly not always, the truth revealed in court serves justice in the strictest sense, but the truth of the system’s human participants cannot be contained in this frame of reference. With a perspective gained from eight years as a prosecutor, Turow has said that everyone in his stories is guilty of something, making the court system an “awkward” device for finding the whole truth. He adds, “It’s the inability of the laws and institutions to accommodate these fine differences in people that has always provided a theme for me.”
Turow’s first novel, Presumed Innocent, is a strong statement about the varieties of truth. In a large midwestern city, prosecuting attorney Carolyn Polhemus has been brutally murdered, and deputy prosecutor Rusty Sabich is assigned...
(The entire section is 1439 words.)