Innocent by Scott Turow

May 31, 2010

Plot summary (with spoilers): Approximately 20 years after the events of Presumed Innocent, in which public prosecutor Carolyn Polhemus was brutally murdered, many of the same players resurface in Innocent under a different set of circumstances. Barbara Sabich, wife of chief judge of the Kindle County Appellate Court Rusty Sabich, has turned up dead. The initial coroner’s report indicates that she might have died of natural causes (she had a bad heart, high blood pressure, etc.), but the fact that Rusty sat with the body for 24 hours and actually cleaned the room before notifying police rouses the suspicions of PA Tommy Molto and underling Jim Brand. Molto, of course, still holds something of a grudge from what happened in Rusty’s murder trial 20 years ago, and is convinced Rusty is guilty of that old crime. He sees a chance to serve justice now.

The story is not told in chronological order, so along with Barbara’s death and the subsequent trial, readers are taken back in time to events that happened a year or more before. For instance, we learn of 60-year-old Rusty’s affair with his 34-year-old law clerk Anna, and of a massive breach of ethics when Rusty tells a defendant, out on bail for murder, that his appeal won’t hold up. Rusty eventually ends the affair with Anna (or she ends it with him…I’ve already forgotten which way it went!), and she starts dating Nat, Rusty and Barbara’s son. Later, Barbara learns of Rusty’s affair by snooping through his emails, and sets in motion a plan of revenge.

About midway through Rusty’s trial for Barbara’s murder, the chronology gets back on track and things proceed somewhat more linearly. In the courtroom scenes, Molto and Brand present their circumstantial evidence for charging Rusty with Barbara’s murder: the browser cache on his computer showed evidence of searches regarding MAO inhibitors, which Barbara might have OD’d on. Plus, there are store receipts showing Rusty purchased a bunch of foods that interact dangerously with MAO inhibitors, and there is forensic evidence that Rusty’s fingerprints were the only ones on the pill bottle. But Sandy Stern, Rusty’s lawyer, has plausible explanations for everything. Plus, there wasn’t exactly a real motive. Rusty had ended his affair 15 months or so prior to Barbara’s death, and it wasn’t as though there were searches for term life insurance rates on his computer, indicating that he was after money.

When all is finally said and done, Rusty ends up copping to a plea of obstruction of justice, while Molto dismisses the murder charge. Rusty is sentenced to two years in a minimum security prison, but is sprung after a couple of months when Molto discovers some professional malfeasance on the part of Brand.


  • I initially liked where the crime angle was going. I had figured out that Barbara was behind everything (particularly since I remember her as the killer in the first novel), but I attributed different motives to her and thought she would have succeeded in nailing Rusty this time.


  • I don’t know why Turow decided to tell the story from all these different points of view and from different points in time. That was kind of confusing at first, and then just got to be a drag. By jumping around like that, there was no natural building of suspense, so the courtroom scenes ended up being boring when they should have been the high point of the novel.
  • The whole Nat-Anna relationship was just disgusting. How could Anna move from the father to the son so effortlessly and barely even feel guilty about it? And if she truly loved Nat, as she said, how could she allow their relationship to be built on a foundation of lies? Sure, Turow conveniently had Nat say that he didn’t want to hear about Anna’s sexual past, but gimme a break. If he had any inkling that it involved his own father, I’m sure he would’ve been singing a different tune at that point!
  • Nat was just an annoying character all the way around. I got sick of Turow describing him as “achingly beautiful” or whatever. Good grief. And wtf was with all of Nat’s crying? I swear, he cries or breaks down or sobs 10-15 times in this book. This is a 28-year-old man we’re talking about. Look, I’m all about men embracing their sensitive side, but that was friggin’ ridiculous.
  • The ending was pretty lame. After all that, the two sides ended in what was essentially a stalemate? Meh. Even though Rusty was innocent, it would have been a nice twist to send him to jail for Barbara’s murder anyway. Or maybe I’m just saying that because I found him to be an utterly despicable and unlikable character. Whatever the reason, the ending was unsatisfying.


Innocent by Scott Turow is nothing like the page-turner that brought the author to nationwide prominence two decades ago. I found myself skimming a good many pages, not liking or rooting for any of the characters, and rolling my eyes/shaking my head at the various plot developments Turow threw out there as the story unfolded. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

2 Responses to “Innocent by Scott Turow”

  1. “Even though Rusty was innocent — ” Maybe he wasn’t innocent. The title is ironic?

  2. I was really glad to find this review. I’ve been listening to “Innocent” and just got to the Anna/Nat part. Blech. Stupid and unbelievable. Thanks for giving me fair warning that it doesn’t get better and there’s no need to waste any more of my time!

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