Friday, October 2, 2009


PLEADING GUILTY by Scott Turow (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1993)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A puzzling book from a giant of the legal thriller genre that might be experimental and is likely to get mixed reviews from readers

If you're a fan of crime or thriller novels, then Scott Turow is one of those authors you're likely to have heard of, even if you've never read. A leading light when it comes to legal thrillers, the real-life attorney was leading the way with courtroom tales before John Grisham picked up the baton and ran and ran and ran with it. Turow's were made into big Hollywood movies, and he's got a well-earned rep as a master.

So, having said all that, I was left rather underwhelmed by PLEADING GUILTY, the third instalment in Turow's 'Kindle County' series.

Mack Malloy is a world-weary attorney, a 50-ish partner in a large law firm who seems to be on his way out, suffering humiliating pay cuts and questions about his usefulness. An ex-cop and recovering alcoholic, it's through Malloy's eyes and voice that the reader experiences Turow's tale, as Malloy is tasked with discreetly discovering the whereabouts of a missing colleague, who's disappeared along with several million dollars.

Over the course of a month, Malloy investigates dictating his findings onto six tape that equate to the book's chapters. Through Malloy we experience the inner workings of a powerful law firm, as well as his own plain-spokenness and homespun philosophies and perspectives on life and those around him.

Getting inside Malloy's head is both intriguing and bothersome. He's an interesting character, but at times veers towards cliche or caricature. His narrative is (perhaps intentionally) a little all over the place, with a distinct voice, but a bothersome one in many ways. There are some interesting passages about alcoholism and life moving on, but then others that seem middle-aged wish-fulfilment of the worst kind.

Turow salts in some nice surprises and twists, but PLEADING GUILTY isn't really action-packed or a high-level thriller. The story unfolds, but even though it is interesting in parts, I found myself feeling rather disconnected from things, like I was watching from afar, somewhat intrigued, rather than being fully caught up or involved in the world, or compelled to keep turning the pages and never put it down.

A mixed bag that'd probably strike different readers differently. Middling.

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