In 1987, a book was written that would change my life. We all find inspiration and motivation from different sources, and it should come as no surprise that my life would find its direction from a book. And it wasn’t just any book– it was perhaps one of the most important books written in the 1980s because it spawned imitators by the thousands. The book was called “Presumed Innocent,” was written by Scott Turow (a lawyer), and was made into a film in 1990 starring Harrison Ford. Do you remember it? Consider that it was the first major book of its kind and the ignition-switch for the legal thriller genre. John Grisham, David Baldacci, Steve Martini… they all followed the lead of “Presumed Innocent,” a book which is second only to “To Kill a Mockingbird” on the list of the most-popular legal thrillers of all time. (Consider that John Grisham has 3 books in the top ten, but Turow’s masterpiece is number 2.)
If you are not familiar with the story, it is about a prosecuting attorney named Rusty Sabich who is charged with the murder of another prosecuting attorney, a woman with whom he had been having an affair. The trial was spectacular, with a despicable prosecutor out to get Rusty, a defense attorney who didn’t trust his own client, evidence that went missing, and a reveal that was so shocking people still talk about it 23 years later. And it was the book that made me want to be a lawyer.
Don’t get me wrong, I never wanted to be involved in criminal law. Murders and rapes and kidnappings were the stuff of nightmares for me. So what was it about this book that made me want to be a lawyer? I was enamored with the way the lawyers in the book thought. If anything, I wanted to learn how to think the way they do, to be 3 steps ahead when cross-examining, to know the details down to their most minute, and to be so sure of yourself and your arguments that your confidence-level skyrocketed. I wanted that. And to some extent I would like to think that I have accomplished that, although now, almost 10 years into practice, I am still learning how to do those things.
So you can imagine my consternation and suspicion when, a mere two-weeks ago, a sequel was released, simply entitled “Innocent.” 22 years have passed since the events of the first book and the characters have certainly moved on. Rusty is now an appellate judge up for election to the state Supreme Court. WHAT?!?!
Immediately I was confounded. How could this possibly be? In the first book it was difficult to label the main character as the hero. In fact, there were no heroes, really. But Rusty was certainly flawed. Cheating on his wife was the just the beginning. Throughout the book you witness a character in self-preservation mode, someone who would do anything to keep out of jail. Even hiding evidence or covering up the truth?
And yet now he is an appellate judge up for the Supreme Court. I simply don’t buy it and I feel duped. I feel taken advantage of. I feel hoodwinked. Rusty did not have redeeming qualities. He was dark and brooding and now he has been elevated to a position of high respect and responsibility. As a reader, I don’t trust Rusty to be the pillar of the legal community that is embodied in the position of a judge. With a past that involved being on trial for murder (one which was never solved, by the way, or so the public believes), how could the public still elect him to the bench? In today’s day and age, haven’t we forgotten that the defendants are innocent until proven guilty? Michael Jackson? OJ Simpson? Both acquitted but both haunted by the stigma of having been on trial, convicted by the court of popular opinion. Surely they did something wrong, right?
So how could Rusty have been elected to the bench? It just doesn’t seem to work for me, but of course, in order for the rest of the book to play out, this high-position was a necessity. It wouldn’t have worked if he were still just a lawyer.
Whew! Well, I am glad to finally get that off my chest. You cannot take a book as important and life-changing as “Presumed Innocent,” wait 23 years to write a sequel, and then mess it up. There is too much responsibility.
Having said that, I should probably actually read the book now, right? Maybe it will all make sense after I read it…