Scott Turow Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Scott Turow once supported but now firmly opposes the death penalty. He voices this opposition in both his novel Reversible Errors and his nonfiction study Ultimate Punishment. What reasons does he advance for his opposition?

Personal Injuries is full of descriptions and images of people who are sick, injured, or dying. Provide examples and then speculate about Turow’s purpose in doing so. For instance, why does Turow include Rainey?

Turow relies heavily on metaphorical language to define his characters. Choose a central character from Presumed Innocent or Burden of Proof and list some of the images associated with him or her. Explain what these images/pictures reveal about the character.

Discuss narrative voice in Pleading Guilty. Through whose eyes do readers see events? How does that affect an understanding of the whole? Does Turow provide any other perspectives? How?

What can readers learn about courtroom strategies from Turow’s books?

What family secrets are ultimately revealed?

What are some of the signs that the main character in Burden of Proof, Sandy Stern, is learning, maturing, and discovering his own previously hidden qualities?

Sandy Stern is an accomplished and insightful lawyer, yet he is blind to the actions of his wife, brother-in-law, and three children. What are two or three reasons for this blindness? Does Stern’s background provide any explanation for his inability to “read” his family?

Do you trust Rusty Sabich? Why or why not?

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Early in his career, while an undergraduate at Amherst College, Scott Turow (tuh-ROH) published short stories. In 1977, he published One L: An Inside Account of Life in the First Year at Harvard Law School, a compelling nonfiction account of his first year as a law student. One L became required reading for prospective law students and eventually sold more than three million copies. Turow has continued to write and publish various works of nonfiction, including book reviews, articles for legal journals, and newspaper articles on topics ranging from politics to sports.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Scott Turow received the Crime Writers’ Association Silver Dagger Award in 1988 for Presumed Innocent. Paperback rights to Presumed Innocent sold for a record three million dollars, and Turow was paid one million dollars for the motion-picture rights, an unprecedented amount for a first novel. Turow’s remarkable success with Presumed Innocent, coupled with his determination to remain a practicing lawyer, started an interest in legal fiction written by lawyers, especially Turow and novelist John Grisham. Turow’s success helped to create a new market for courtroom drama, and scores of lawyers and law students began tinkering with writing fiction. Turow is often hailed as having transcended his genre, producing consistently literary works with mass audience appeal.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Scott Turow has drawn extensively on his experience as a practicing attorney in Chicago to create mystery and suspense novels that meet the standards of serious fiction. His dramatic and gripping plots incorporate the profound meditations of an insider on the incongruities of the American legal system, while presenting human nature in all its complexity. Though many novels in this genre have aimed primarily to entertain, Turow insists that his works abide by the Aristotelian dictum to instruct as well as entertain. Besides the law, Turow’s main source of artistic inspiration has been great literature that follows this dictum. Although justice may or may not be served in his legal thrillers, in a broader sense the works portray the search for individual redemption and collective healing.

An amalgam of the practical, the gritty, and the philosophical, Turow’s work has influenced contemporaries such as Steve Martini and relative newcomers such as Kermit Roosevelt. As an attorney, he served on a commission that reviewed the administration of capital punishment in Illinois, leading Governor George Ryan to declare a moratorium on executions in that state. Turow recorded the evolution of his own thought on the issue in a nonfiction work, Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer’s Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty (2003).


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Ahley, Mark. Modern Crime Fiction: The Authors, Their Works, and Their Most Famous Creations. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2002. Contains a short essay on legal thrillers and courtroom dramas. Describes Turow as a major practitioner of the genre.

Bennett, Julie K. “The Trials of a Novelist.” North Shore 10, no. 9 (September, 1987). Examines Turow’s life and work.

D’Amato, Barbara. “Chicago as a Mystery Setting.” In The Fine Art of Murder: The Mystery Reader’s Indispensable Companion, edited by Ed Gorman, Martin H. Greenberg, Larry Segriff, and Jon L. Breen. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1993. Discusses Chicago as a city with high winds, a corrupt image, and social conditions providing motives for murder. Sheds light on Turow’s writings.

Diggs, Terry K. “Through a Glass Darkly.” American Bar Association Journal 82 (October, 1996). Compares the realities of the legal life with its representation in the novels of Turow and John Grisham.

Doyle, James M. “‘It’s the Third World down There!’ The Colonialist Vocation and American Criminal Justice.” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 27 (Winter, 1992). The work of Turow is compared with earlier portrayals of criminal justice in the works of Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad.


(The entire section is 411 words.)