Of the tremendous spate of legal thrillers published in the wake of John Grisham’s blockbuster novel The Firm (1991), few can match—and perhaps none surpass—the writings of attorney Scott Turow for emotional depth and sheer literary quality. When Turow’s 1987 novelPresumed Innocent came on the scene, followed by The Burden of Proofin 1990, reviewers praising the two international best-sellers recognized that the author’s page-turning suspense format was in the service of a larger goal: writing about what William Faulkner once called “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself, which alone can make good writing . . . love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.”
Nowhere is this more true than in Personal Injuries. On its first page, readers meet attorney Robbie Feaver (pronounced “favor”): He is flashy, egotistical, manipulative, crass, and an inveterate womanizer. He is also scared to death. Government agents have turned up a secret bank account Feaver maintains, apparently unbeknownst to his straight-arrow law partner and childhood best friend Morton Dinnerstein, for the sole purpose of bribing judges and other court officers to assure positive outcomes for many of the firm’s clients.
Feaver seeks out defense attorney George Mason, narrator of the book, who initially describes his client this way:
I did not know Robbie Feaver well. When he’d called this morning, he’d reminded me that we’d met several times in the lobby of the LeSueur Building where we each had our law offices, and of the committee work he’d done for the Kindle County Bar Association a couple of years ago during my term as president. My memories of him were vague and not necessarily pleasant. Measured according to the remaining reflexes of a proper Southern upbringing, he was the kind of fellow who’d be described simply as “too much.” Too good-looking in the sense that he was too well aware of it. Too much stiff, dark hair that reflected too much fussing. He was tanned in every season and spent too much money on his clothes—high-styled Italian suits and snazzy foulards—accompanied by too much jewelry. He spoke too loudly, and too eagerly to strangers in the elevator. In fact, in any setting, he talked too much—one of those people who went one up on Descartes: I speak, therefore I am. But I now saw one apparent virtue: he could have told you all of that. Diminished by fear, he maintained an air of candor, at least about himself. As clients went, therefore, he seemed, on first impression, better than average.
Feaver is a major-league paradox, by turns charismatic and obnoxious, greedy and softheartedly altruistic. He dotes on his wife and mother, both of whom are seriously ill: His wife Lorraine is in the final stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), and his mother Estelle has been confined to a nursing home after a stroke. As the story unfolds, Feaver becomes what is possibly Turow’s most enigmatic and memorable character yet.
The deal that Feaver strikes with the devil (in the person of prosecutor Stan Sennett) is to pretend business-as-usual, continuing to make his illegal payoffs—though now with a body wire and surveillance cameras to nail down evidence against the accused. Feaver, whose true passion has always been amateur theater, finds himself giving the most important performance of his life.
The pressure cooker is turned up several more notches when a full-scale FBI surveillance team hits town, including undercover agent Evon Miller, the second most intriguing character in Personal Injuries. Miller is a former Olympic athlete, now a loner who has made her career her life. She has the unenviable task of posing as Feaver’s new paralegal and incidental girlfriend, while keeping round-the-clock tabs on him to ensure that he plays by the rules.
(The entire section is 1604 words.)