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We last saw Rusty Savage about twenty years ago, when he escaped conviction when he was tried for the murder of the woman with whom he had an affair. Then he was a prosecuting attorney, married with a young child. At the end of that novel (Presumed Innocent), he and his wife split, and Rusty is alone. Now in this sequel, he is a judge, and he find that he was reunited with his wife not long after their separation. In his sixties, he is a pillar of the establishment, and he expects to become a member on the supreme court of the state. This is all thrown into question when his wife Barbara dies in her sleep. Oddly, Rusty does not tell anyone for a whole day, and this makes the prosecuting attorney's office suspicious. What motivated Rusty to delay? What was he doing? Was he covering up a crime?
Mental illness plays a major role in this story. Barbara had bipolar disorder. They only worked this out when she became suicidal when she was living on with their young son Nat. After she was stabilized, she and Rusty put their past behind them and got back together. But she is still a difficult person and Rusty is not completely fulfilled by the marriage. Despite what happened the last time he had an affair, he does it again. It is a passionate relationship which he knows can never last, and he lives in fear of his wife discovering his deception and betrayal. This is a couple of years before her death -- the narrative skips around in time in the period before she dies up to Rusty's trial for her murder. The question is whether she did ever discover his recent affair, and if so, what role that played in the events leading up to her death.
The good side of Turow's sequel is the psychological depth of his characterization of Rusty and his depiction of the trial. Listening to the audiobook is enjoyable and intriguing, making you wonder what happened. Turow reassembles most of the old cast of characters, notably Rusty's defense attorney Sandy Stern and the prosecuting attorney Tommy Molto, both now older and wiser.
The disappointing aspects of the novel are the massively implausible plot twists, the characterizations of the woman Rusty has an affair with and of Rusty's son Nat, and the completely lack of voice of his wife Barbara. The affair itself seems more like a plot device than a real relationship, and the woman is not convincing. Nat seems weak, self-deluded and rather pathetic, and so he doesn't make for an interesting central character, especially since much of the novel is told from his perspective. But the most problematic aspect of the book is the role Turow gives to Barbara and her mental illness. She is a bitter controlling woman with a great deal of anger; really Rusty's relationship with her should be the heart of the story, but it's presented as an enigma that even he does not understand. At the end of the story, he shows a hint of understanding the role he had in making her unhappy, but this seems more like an afterthought than the key to the novel. We never get any sense of her own take on the world or her feelings about her marriage. Being that she is the one with mental illness, and that Turow gave her this illness especially for the sequel, it feels like he is using it just as a way to make her a problem. She is scheming, unsympathetic, violent and hateful. While this makes it easier to see why someone would want to kill her, it's hardly an admirable or plausible depiction of a person who lives with a major mental illness.
The reading of the unabridged audiobook by Edward Herrmann with a more minor part by Orlagh Cassidy is strong, with vivid characterizations and plenty of energy.
© 2010 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York