An old grudge and a raft of circumstantial evidence pit Rusty Savich and Tommy Molto against one another in another courtroom battle twenty years after the legal brouhaha of Presumed Innocent. Chief Judge of the Court State of Appeals for the Third Appellate Division, Savich is a candidate for the State Supreme Court when fate delivers him once more into the public eye at age sixty, standing accused of murdering his wife.
But for extenuating circumstances that attract the attention of Molto and his chief deputy, Jim Brand, Barbara Savich’s death would pass unnoticed by any but the immediate family. Unfortunately for Rusty, the wounds of the first courtroom clash of the titans has left permanent scars, Molto unwilling to give Savich a second pass at murder. Encouraged by Jim Brand, Tommy surreptitiously gathers random statements, ingeniously laying out a case for Rusty’s indictment for murder, although with shockingly little real evidence: “The million daily details of life suddenly get elevated to evidence of murder.”
The situation is exacerbated by Rusty’s egregious mistakes - both in the past and more recently - before Barbara’s demise, actions that will appear damning once they are meticulously assembled by the prosecutor and presented in a seamless narrative. In chapters written from the perspective of Rusty’s son, Nat, and Savich’s former senior clerk, Anna Vostic, an unsavory emotional subtext evolves. But the primary voices are those of Judge Savich and Tommy Molto, Turow once again exploring the maze of the judicial system and a clever prosecutor’s attempt to stop a man he honestly believes has killed before.
Less palatable are the facts presented at trial, the sketchy connections between people and intentions all subject to interpretation. It’s been a while since I read the compulsive Presumed Innocent, and while the courtroom scenes are the best part of the novel, Molto’s obsession seems a bit contrived, if not disingenuous. What’s really criminal is Savich’s fate: a lonely old man clinging to the ragged remnants of youth and the bitter dregs of an unhappy marriage to a deeply troubled woman.
Come on, this is Rusty Savich, twenty years before a brilliant, cunning defender who cut his teeth on risk and Molto’s hubris, outmatching and outwitting the prosecutor at every turn. The law is a language unto itself, Tommy and Rusty too weary for a rematch, especially one as shallow as this. The emperor has no clothes, and Rusty is already in jail.