Testimony by Scott Turow


I know that Mr. Turow isn’t a fan of Amazon because of the licensing wars, even though his characters dwell in Kindle County. So I tried to link the paper book above but failed because I dwell in the Kindle library.

This latest novel is very good for the reasons that all Turow books are. I am not a lawyer who thinks he could publish something, and so I don’t so much like the writers’ accounts of how their sausage is made. But Turow writes beautifully, and about once a page at least is a sentence that I just stop and read several times to marvel at how well it is crafted. His books are like a martini: the alcohol is the point, but sometimes you stop to think “this sure is a fine crystal glass.” With the e-reader I can’t help but draw e-highlights, something I never do with paper books because it feels sacrilegious.

I am pretty sure now on the evidence of his body of work and a very short but kind conversation with him at a book signing in Atlanta that Turow doesn’t hate lawyers. This is important to me in a writer if we are going to spend hundreds of pages together. There are fewer books that get legal dialogue right, the way so many books capture police jargon or medical lingo, but the Kindle county lawyers speak like lawyers everywhere. But Turow doesn’t idolize or idealize them either — this is the real deal. One fine observation is about how lawyers can stay friends even though they get cross with each other in the heat of battle.

Testimony has plot twists that are the Turow trademark. I guess most successful authors do, but there are also so many books that are “lawyer down on luck, lawyer gets case, lawyer has tribulation, lawyer wins trial, the end.” I read for escape so I am not very vigilant about what is coming down the road, or through the tunnel. Some of his other novels had mind-blowing twists; this one not so much although it was not exactly what I was predicting.

I don’t think Turow writes with movies in mind the way Grisham does and especially not to the extent Crichton did (digression: Crichton’s posthumous “found” short novel Dragon Teeth is the most ready for the screen thing I’ve read in a while). I read somewhere that Turow works very hard on his character names. Having grown up in the white and black South, that lacks the euroethnic diversity of Turow’s Midwest, his character names are foreign to me. So with all that in mind, who would play the characters in the cinema version of this one? Bill ten Boom (obviously he did not have Will Muschamp in mind) is kind of hard for me to picture. The black, mannish, lesbian Radar O’Reilly as Arms Dealer character is harder still. The female lead is also hard for me to picture. The barely-fictionalized war criminal is a scary charismatic figure that steals the scenes he is in. I leave all that to Casting.

A recurring theme for Turow is sexual obsession. To avoid the “fiction as autobiography” trap, suffice it to say that Turow characters have a complicated relationship with the theme. The pain of being spurned is one of the most powerful and effective things in these novels. Perhaps, the flights of ecstasy during a current obsession and the rationalizations it makes possible are less so. Such a terrific writer obviously can draw a sex scene with some skill, but some of these in Testimony seem pointless to the whole and a bit voyeuristic. (Is it correct to say that every sex scene in Turow novels is initiated by the woman? “Consent, The Novel?”).

I wish I knew more about how the New York Times picks reviewers for its Sunday Book section. Ben Macintyre, a British author who writes very well about spies, did a nice review in today’s section. Most interesting to me is his praise for a scene where Boom and his Aussie side-kick (great speechisms – Russell Crowe? Karl Urban? No Hemsworths please) are trapped on a salt mine tower of some sort. A Batman Scene (there must be a term of art for those) where the bad guys leave them alone, allowing them to make an improbable self rescue and escape. Macintyre praises the passage and I am certain he is correct. But I had a very hard time with that whole scene, it didn’t draw any word pictures in my mind. I found it bewildering. I think I may have been drawn into reading very fast to find out how the heroes escaped, and missed the visual cues.

I also found one annoying typo, but I am sure that was due to Kindleification of the novel.

This is a very good book that I finished looking forward to the next anything Mr. Turow cares to write. Even “Murder In The Kindle County Retirement Community.”

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