(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Although best-selling writer Scott Turow sets his mystery- suspense novel Reversible Errors, like his other best- selling novels Presumed Innocent (1987) and The Burden of Proof (1990), in his fictional Kindle County, readers will easily recognize the locale as Chicago, where he once served as an assistant United States attorney. Turow expertly utilizes his legal background and, in this case, his involvement with death- row convicts, as well as an amazing ability to create complex, conflicted characters to demonstrate that the pursuit of justice is seldom straightforward. Oftentimes it remains cloaked in deception, ego aggrandizement, professional and personal commitments and, very important, in racial prejudice.

After ten years on death row, it occurs to Rommy “Squirrel” Gandolph, convicted of a brutal July 4, 1991, triple murder, that he might actually be put to death. Gandolph is a “yellow-man,” the term applied to those waiting on Kindle County’s death row. A mentally disturbed, small-time hood, he confessed to the murder of the owner of the Paradise restaurant and two customers after detective Larry Starczek and prosecutor Muriel Wynn convinced him of his guilt. Gandolph claimed to remember little of the event because he was befuddled on drugs; however, he signed the confession and, at the hands of Judge Gillian Sullivan, spent ten years on death row waiting, somehow, to be freed. Gandolph’s reluctant court- appointed lawyer does not take his client’s last-minute claims of innocence very seriously, but at the prompting of his young associate, Pamela Towns, Arthur Raven begins to take a closer look at the ten-year-old case. However, when he takes a deposition from another prisoner, Erno Erdai, who is dying from cancer, Raven becomes more convinced that the wrong man was convicted. In a deathbed confession, Erno himself claims to be solely responsible for the “Fourth of July Massacre,” as the case came to be known.

Reversible Errors spans a period of ten years. Two primary couples, Arthur Raven and Gillian Sullivan on one hand and Muriel Wynn and Larry Starczek on the other hand, attempt to figure out Gandolph’s innocence or guilt. Involved in the outcome are their egos, their professional standing, and their personal relationships.

Muriel Wynn and Larry Starczek are clandestine lovers in 1991 when the vicious murders take place. The victims are diner owner Gus Leonidis and his only customers, Luisa Remardi, a mother of two, and Paul Judson, a bystander. Intent on upward mobility, assistant district attorney Wynn goes after Gandolph’s conviction to further her career and Starczek, similarly, wants more notches on his police belt. They see Gandolph, a black man, as a no-good petty thief and do not go to very much trouble to prove him guilty beyond a doubt. Implicit racist overtones contribute to their attitude that he deserves to die. The resultant death-sentence conviction boosts their careers and both remain absolutely convinced they have the right murderer. On the personal level, during the conviction process Muriel confides to Larry that she is going to marry an international power broker and ends their affair. Larry takes this very much to heart. Deeply in love with Muriel, he regrets not being able to leave his placid marriage and finds relief from his emotional turmoil in renovating old homes and creating gardens. Muriel opts for an unhappy, childless marriage and advances professionally to the point where she is ready to run for political office.

After ten years, the couple is reunited when Gandolph rescinds his confession. They realize that if they wrongly convicted Gandolph, Muriel, now Kindle County’s formidable chief deputy prosecuting attorney, will lose her chance at public office and Larry’s sterling police character will be tarnished. Despite overwhelming evidence of Gandolph’s innocence, in their effort to maintain and advance their careers, they never stop to consider that the person they so readily convicted could indeed be the wrong man. They also find they are still greatly attracted to each other and come to realize that they should not have settled for other relationships. The egos of these two highly complex, conflicted characters remain at issue here, in particular how they deal with themselves as people, as the case moves along and it becomes more apparent that they are, indeed, responsible for an innocent man’s ten-year incarceration.

On the other side of this compound equation is the novel’s other couple, Arthur Raven and Gillian Sullivan. Initially reluctant to take on the Gandolph case, Raven comes to acknowledge that his court-appointed client is, after all, innocent. Although the middle-aged, balding, short, plodding...

(The entire section is 1940 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Booklist 99 (September 1, 2002): 8.

Library Journal 127 (September 15, 2002): 94.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 15, 2002, p. 13.

The New York Times Book Review 107 (November 3, 2002): 8.

Publishers Weekly 249 (August 19, 2002): 64.