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For the August Readers’ Review, we chose Scott Turow’s “Presumed Innocent.” A legal thriller published in 1987, it became an instant best seller. The Hollywood movie came out three years later, starring Harrison Ford as Rusty Sabich. He’s a prosecuting attorney who finds himself accused of murdering a beautiful female co-worker. Readers don’t learn until the very end whether Sabich is guilty. Along the way, the novel provides keen insights into how politics and personalities can shape a criminal trial. Join Diane and her guests as they discuss “Presumed Innocent.”
- Leslie Maitland former reporter for The New York Times and author of "Crossing the Borders of Time."
- Alafair Burke law professor at Hofstra University, former prosecutor and author of eight novels, including "Never Tell," published in June.
- Barry Coburn trial lawyer and partner at the Washington, D.C., law firm Coburn & Greenbaum.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpt from “Presumed Innocent” by Scott Turow. Copyright 2011 by Scott Turow. Reprinted here by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Scott Turow is an attorney who wrote his first novel in a spiral notebook while commuting to work. That novel is "Presumed Innocent," our August readers review. It was published in 1987 and made into a major Hollywood movie. Joining me to talk about the novel that helped establish the legal thriller genre, journalist and author Leslie Maitland, trial attorney Barry Coburn, and law professor Alafair Burke of Hofstra University. She's also a novelist and former prosecutor.
MS. DIANE REHMI'm sure many of you have either read the book or seen the movie. I hope you'll join us this morning on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
REHMGood to have you here. Leslie Maitland, tell us about then novel's narrator and protagonist Rusty Sabich.
MS. LESLIE MAITLANDRusty Sabich has been the chief deputy prosecutor in what is essentially the district attorney's office of a Midwestern town, unidentified, but it sounds like it's Chicago where actually Scott Turow does live...
MAITLANDAnd he is risen through the ranks. He was the protégé of the current prosecuting attorney, Raymond Horgan, who reminds me very much of the long-time Manhattan district attorney, Frank Hogan. I wondered if Turow got his name that way. But he's a somewhat passive individual. He's a kind of bleak person. He has a very dour world view, but he is committed to the standards and the ideals of the criminal justice system.
REHMAnd Barry Coburn, as you read through the book, what kind of a sense did you get of the honor of Rusty Sabich?
MR. BARRY COBURNHis honor?
COBURNWell, one of the themes of the book I guess you could say is integrity. This question of the integrity of the criminal justice system generally, the integrity of the particular individuals who are involved in the book, the integrity of the judge who ends up presiding over Rusty Sabich's trial, the integrity of his boss, Raymond Horgan, his own integrity, and without, you know, I'm not sure if we should provide an spoilers here, but the integrity of other people around him.
COBURNAnd I think Rusty's integrity or honor is ambiguous. Just as the integrity of just about everybody else in the novel, and the integrity of the institutions involved, and that's one of the things that I think is particularly good about the book. That it doesn't whitewash anyone, doesn't make anyone into an unambiguous villain. There's always a little bit of gray, a little bit of uncertainty.
REHMAnd Alafair Burke, if you would, give us a brief synopsis of the novel.
MS. ALAFAIR BURKEWell, we find Rusty at the beginning of the novel at the funeral of another prosecutor in Kindle County named Carolyn Polhemus, and one of the things I love about the book is it's a first-person narration, but we have an unreliable narrator let's say, or a narrator who kind of chooses when to disclose certain facts to us as the audience. So we see him really as a colleague at first at this funeral, and his office in Kindle County is under considerable political pressure which I think is also depicted very well in the book because of an imminent election, a contested election, and there's pressure to solve Carolyn Polhemus's murder.
REHMAnd what is revealed to us, of course, along the way is that Rusty was having an affair with Carolyn Polhemus as were other people, and he becomes a suspect in the very case that he was in charge of investigating.
REHMBecause it is learned that a glass with a single thumbprint of Rusty's is at Carolyn Polhemus's apartment where she is found really rather brutally murdered, Leslie.
MAITLANDShe's found nude, she's found bound with a rope around her neck, her waist, her ankles. She has been bludgeoned, gashes in her head. She has been raped they believe. The most critical piece of evidence comes about when they find a sample of Rusty's sperm in the medical examination of the -- during the autopsy, and it is revealed to match Rusty's blood type. Of course, all this mounts to circumstantial evidence that ties him to the crime. Carpet fibers that match the fibers in his home, the latent fingerprints as you suggest, and the physical evidence from the rape.
MAITLANDBut they don't have a witness. They do have a phone call from his home to her apartment. Things that tend to point to him at a time when the D.A., the prosecuting attorney, is running for re-election after 12 years, and is hell bent on getting this case solved quickly before the election.
REHMYou know, it seemed to me that as I read this novel, with the exception of one character, that these were a bunch of really morally ambiguous people. I mean, you two are both trained in the law. Did Scott Turow give us an authentic view of what happens in the world of the law?
COBURNI think in that regard particularly, the novel has an unusual degree of authenticity. You know, what you find when you're kind of in the caldron of a trial, is that there really -- it's very difficult oftentimes to identify clear unambiguous good guys and bad guys. The facts, the individuals, the motivations, all those different things are just a lot harder to kind of grab onto and characterize than you might think. And I think that was actually probably one of Turow's main objectives in writing the book was to characterize the people and the institutions in which they operate that way because I think it's actually rather important for people to see that aspect…
REHMTo understand that and how it contrasts with, for example, so many television programs about the law and how straightforward lawyers who are prosecuting or defending can be. When Scott Turow wrote this, he came on the program shortly thereafter and we talked a great deal about this notion of the ambiguity. Do you feel that as well, Alafair?
BURKEI think one of the things he did really well in the novel, and to contrast it to television as you were, is that on television you would get the impression that a prosecutor's job is one where you just go to court and the police have already built the evidence, and really you are just a tactician who is there to present the evidence and then you sit down and say, the state rests. What this book does really well, although many of the very powerful scenes are in the courtroom, Turow, really shows that the power of the prosecutor is really unleashed outside of the courtroom.
BURKEThat it's those in-office decisions about do we charge people, what do we charge them with, when do we charge them. None of that is on the record. There is no judge there. There's nobody to object to any of it. The power of a prosecutor is extremely broad and largely unreviewable, and you really see that, that Rusty probably wouldn't have even been charged is Horgan had won the election, right? So it's which lawyer does that file land on, you know. Which lawyer gets that case can make all the difference, literally, in a life and death decision for somebody.
REHMAnd the whole question of whether Rusty asked to take this case, or whether Horgan insisted he take the case, becomes an issue at trial, Leslie.
MAITLANDI was going to say that, you know, it's fascinating. Right from page one he draws that point when he says in the opening statement, he said, "when you've learned how to give an opening statement in a trial, he was told you must always point at the defendant. If you don't have the courage to point, you can't expect the jury to have the courage to convict, and so I point. And I was reminded of, you know, (unintelligible) , which Turow brings up at the end, painting Rusty as a kind of Dreyfus character, that all it really takes is a pointing finger for someone's life to be completely overturned, and that is the power of the prosecutor.
REHMAnd, of course, here in the Washington area, we've just had a man released who was sentenced to life in prison without parole for a crime, a murder, he did not commit.
COBURNWell, you're absolutely right. And, of course, that's becoming more and more common. There's an organization that probably a lot of your listeners are aware of called The Innocence Project, and it's devoted essentially to seeking to review, examine, and when necessary, contest those convictions. And the number that they have successfully overturned, it's really staggering, and just terribly disturbing. And some of that actually is illuminated by this novel, just how sometimes, you know, a collection of evidence can seem clear, but it's really not clear at all, and how through the process of cross-examination it can be tested and kind of dissected, and oftentimes it comes out in an entirely new light, and how witnesses can change their attitudes.
COBURNI mean, just -- what you were just eluding to, the relationship between this main protagonist, Rusty Sabich, and his boss Raymond Horgan, and how Horgan's attitude towards Rusty changes in a way that could really imperil him. It's remarkable.
REHMBarry Coburn. He's a trial attorney and partner at the Washington law firm of Coburn and Greenbaum. We'll take a short break here. Do join us. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMYou know, I'm going to inject a spoiler alert here. If you don't want to know how this book ended, you ought to turn off your radio now because you're going to hear a lot more than you'd want to know if you had never read the book. And the reason I tell you this now is because of this email from Jerry in Kalamazoo, Mich. who says, "I have to admit I did not read the book, but I saw the movie. I don't remember ever seeing another movie in which I did not respect any character. Every person in the movie betrayed himself or others in some way from the cheating husband and coworker, the sleazy attorney, the corrupt judge to the friend who hid the glass."
REHMAnd Jerry finishes by saying, "The only person who deserved any respect was the wife until the end." And then Jerry says, "I felt like taking a shower after this film." I think he has really hit on a great many good points here, Alafair.
BURKEWell, I think it's always a question of whether you can enjoy a novel when you don't like the people in it, or do you have to like characters? And I can't say I like any of these characters and so I see his point very much. And -- but I don't see it as a flaw in the novel. I think it was interesting to read about those characters at a moment in their lives because most people do have moments in their lives when they are weak, right.
BURKEAnd Rusty ultimately wants to do the right thing and he becomes obsessed with Carolyn. And I think one of the things Turow does really well is display this complete obsession he has with this woman. Even in death he is still fantasizing about her. And it's not out of any great love. It's this raw visceral sexual thing. It's not because he loved her. It doesn't come across as love to me. And yet I found I can still enjoy the book even though I don't necessarily like these emotions that he puts on the page.
REHMHow'd you feel about Rusty's wife, Leslie?
MAITLANDWell, I think like so many of the other characters in the book he portrays her as a kind of very depressed individual who is burdened by a legacy of pain. And when I thought back it seemed that all of them were -- she had had, you know, a kind of cold relationship with her mother, you know, antagonistic. Her father had died when she was young. Her -- we know that she has some kind of psychiatric manic depressive personality, bleak, dark forests of moods.
MAITLANDCarolyn is similarly, you know, a beaten woman, abused, but...
REHM...but smart and clever.
MAITLAND...the wife -- well, role of the wife at the end, if we're going to get into this, and the fact that she turns out in the very end to have set up her husband and let him take the blame for a murder that she committed out of rage and jealousy was, I thought, really the one irritant in the book to me. You know, I had read it before and I remembered really liking the book. I thought that the courtroom scenes just were fabulous.
REHMJust so good, yes.
MAITLANDTo me that was the best part of the book, was the trial and then the give and take, the cross examination and everything. But at the end when you find out that the wife has done it, to me that was actually -- the ending was something I had forgotten. And I realized I had forgotten it 'cause I didn't like it. And I didn't like it because A. it seemed outside of the (word?) of the book in a way. It was unexpected in a way that didn't really make sense.
MAITLANDBut more than that I found that Rusty's ability to forgive her and want to move on was incomprehensible and actually grotesque. The fact that he compromised his best friend, a cop, by telling him what had happened -- by telling him that his wife's complicity was outrageous because both of them could actually have been charged with obstruction of justice and should have been. The fact that, you know, he himself is an officer of the court did not reveal what he knew and yet was content to go -- not only become the acting prosecuting attorney, but then go on the bench in view of that was mind blowing.
MAITLANDAnd all around, you know, this ending was just incredibly disheartening.
REHMWell, if you were disheartened by that than you should read the next novel that he wrote "Innocent," which takes us further into the lives of Rusty and his wife. What about these comments, Barry? What did you think of the women in this story?
COBURNWell, just to respond briefly to what Leslie was saying, I didn't find any aspect of the book particularly disheartening, nor did I find the end to be sort of troublesome in the sense of it being unlikely. I actually thought it was fairly likely and I didn't have any trouble believing that this was something he might not want to divulge, that is to say the main character might not want to divulge until the very end.
COBURNBut in terms of the women, I think that they're depicted with kind of a pretty even hand, very similarly really to the way the men are depicted. I don't see too much of a difference in terms of gender attitudes on the part of the author. Everybody's deeply imperfect and that is troubling. So for -- you know, in terms of the way the caller reacted I think the impulse to take a shower is really not hard to understand.
COBURNYou know, I mean, there's a lot of sort of explicit sexual description in the book. You know, there's a lot of bodily fluids here and there. You know, there's a grotesque murder and there's a lot of deceit and duplicity, basically on the part of all concerned. And so women and men, I think, kind of fall inside of that ambit and I think that's one of the strengths of the novel.
BURKEYeah, I -- the one thing I would add to that is that the depiction -- the ending only works, I think, because he's made Carolyn Polhemus unusually unlikeable. I mean, this is a woman who really is only talked about -- we only see her in death and she's only talked about by men in very sexualized ways. She's depicted as a very calculating user. She's the kind of woman who says to him, you know, while they're together, does Barbara do this for you?
BURKEYou know, I mean, she's not depicted in a favorable light. And even her own son, right, they -- her own son doesn't seem to care that she's gone, right. He can barely call Carolyn his mother. He calls her Carolyn and winds up siding with Rusty and never seems to really feel any loss for her. And so I think that's the only way you can have a book with -- so in a way I'm criticizing the book I guess that she's depicted as being horrifically victimized. Her murder is described in tremendous detail and she obviously experienced a very violent ending.
BURKEAnd yet at the end we're supposed to accept the fact that Rusty, the protagonist, has led us through this entire story as willing to just have no justice for that.
MAITLANDRight. And I'd just like to go back to that. They say at the end no one talked about pursuing the murder. And then one issue I would take with Turow, which disturbed me about the ending, is where he says that it would be practically impossible to try two people for the same crime. And I would look to our two lawyers here, but as far as I can see I don't think that that's the case. And it's sort of astonishing that this high profile case is just allowed to fade away without anyone pursuing further investigation.
REHMWhat about that?
COBURNWell, it's not a constitutional prohibition. In other words, it's not like a double jeopardy problem. It's more kind of a practical problem, if you will. I mean, if the state -- or in this case, you know, the county commits itself to a particular theory of the offense and that theory doesn't pan out, either a jury acquits or, in this case, the judge throws the case out before it even gets there, for the state then to kinda reassign blame to somebody else I think generally speaking would be just regarded as impractical, so very rare.
REHMAnd somebody in the same family, for heaven's sake...
REHM...would be, I would think, pretty difficult to pursue. We've got a lot of callers. I want to open the phones here, 800-433-8850. First to Martha's Vineyard. Good morning, Wayne. How's the weather there?
WAYNEThe weather is -- it's beautiful. Wonderful time of the year to be here.
WAYNEMy question is this. Prosecutors have this unwilling power in the secrecy of developing cases. And particularly in the news lately it's about these plea bargains and the power that they wield. And my question goes to what are some of the solutions that have been thought about out there among the experts to wield this power in. When a D.A. runs for office, for example, they run on an anticrime platform. But the real work of what a D.A. does and from a power they wield is hidden, how do we expose that? How do we put some sunshine on this?
COBURNThat's a great question and, in fact, it's a question that corresponds very nicely to some of the themes in this novel. There was actually an article in the New York Times not too long ago. Some -- this listener or others might remember it. It was a front page article indicating that essentially the balance of power in the courtroom in criminal cases has shifted from judges to prosecutors. And prosecutors now have an enormous -- really a lot of people think very disturbing quantity of raw power, charging decisions, inducing cooperation, things like that.
COBURNIt is a very -- a lot of lawyers and judges...
REHMTaking power away from judges?
COBURNYes, that's right. The way the system works now, particularly in the federal courts, the price that a defendant often times will pay by going to trial is so enormously high that the trial option really oftentimes is eliminated for all practical purposes.
REHMAlafair, as a former prosecuting attorney did you see that?
BURKEYes. There was a penalty to -- what -- some people say defendants get rewarded for pleading guilty. Others say that they are punished for going to trial. So it depends on how you define a baseline and what your world view is. But the reality is that very few cases do go to trial. And those defendants who do go to trial and get convicted will serve a higher sentence than if they had pled guilty. Because of that the inducement -- the incentives to plead guilty are tremendously high.
BURKEAnd judges often participate in that as well. They have more cases than they have courtrooms and so they look at all the defendants and they say, why haven't you pled guilty? So there's tremendous pressure to plead. And the caller's question was about public view of any of this since there's no formal judicial review of it. There's a whole literature on there -- out there about whether prosecutors should have internal written guidelines, whether those should be publicized, whether those should be transparency to some of these processes that aren't currently transcribed.
MAITLANDI was going to say, there's a federal judge in New York recently decried in a written article in the Times I believe, that one of the big faults in the system is that judicial power has been usurped by prosecutors because of mandatory sentencing laws. And that if the prosecutor demands that the judge file the mandatory sentence, the judge has very little discretion about imposing a sentence that he may have so viewed as draconian and far beyond what the defendant actually deserves, so that a plea bargain becomes a way to avoid that kind of strict sentence.
REHMLeslie Maitland, former reporter for the New York Times and author of the recently published memoir. It's titled "Crossing the Borders of Time." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Manassas, Va. Good morning, Walter.
WALTERGood morning, Diane. I wasn't intending on calling until I heard one of your panelists mentioning a fact of the novel that I always hated myself. And it's a question of the literary nature of the writing. Since I haven't read the book since it came out, I'm asking you all to tell me. As I remember the narrative is written in the first person. Scott Turow was taking advantage of the tradition established by Agatha Christie in "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" in which the first person narrator is the murderer.
WALTERBut at the very end, as I recall, there's really no way for him in the first person to find out that his wife is the actual murderer.
REHMSure there is. She tells him. She tells him exactly what she has done. There's no crossing of first to third person.
MAITLANDAnd he finds the murder weapon.
REHMOf course, he finds the murder weapon.
BURKEOne point I will agree with the caller on is -- I said this at the very beginning that he's an unreliable narrator. We tend to believe that if someone's telling us something in the first person, they're telling us only what they can know and everything they do know. And I think one place where there's a bit of a cheat in the book is at the end, he tells his friend Lib that he figured out the glass, right. That the glass was from his own home, not Carolyn's, that he figured it out during trial when there were 13 glasses total at Carolyn's bar. And no one has 13 matching glasses.
BURKEAnd he realized that moment when I confessed my adultery to Barbara the reason why I did it out of the blue at the dinner table is I was thinking our glasses are just like hers, right. And so here he knew on page 100 and something a very critical fact that he didn't tell us. And so when you get to that moment in the book and he's telling Lib and it's at the very end, oh I figured this out on page 100, you want reach into the book and knock him around a little bit and say, you didn't play fair. You didn't tell us that fact.
REHMYou know, I regarded Lib as somebody who at least had the loyalty of friendship, the loyalty of caring enough about another human being he respected, to hide that glass. So he becomes the one for me least despicable.
COBURNWell, I think that's beautifully put and it raises a number of interesting questions I think. I mean, the point was made a few minutes ago that at the end there are at least a couple people -- several people who know who the murderer is and nobody's going to turn her in. And that, kind of from the perspective of, you know, kind of wanting to see justice "done" is certainly disturbing.
COBURNBut, you know, there are other themes -- other aspects of peoples' personalities which could be very attractive, you know, which kinda contradict that. And the one that you just mentioned I think is the key one. You know, Lib is so loyal to Rusty that he's willing to do exactly what you just described, commit a felony himself in...
COBURN...by secreting the glass. You know, and that's actually a very -- it turns out from my point of view to be a very attractive trade and something that really made me like him particularly also. And it's interesting, I think -- and this is one of the key things I believe in the book -- it's interesting to contrast him with Raymond Horgan. Horgan, for whom rusty has worked for 13 years, is grossly disloyal in the picture.
REHMHe's a rat. Barry Coburn. He's a trial attorney here in Washington. Short break, more of your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. As we talk about "Presumed Innocent," the 1987 novel, wonderful mystery, legal thriller written by Scott Turow, made into a fabulous movie starring Harrison Ford. If you haven't seen it, get it on Netflix or whatever. But you will really enjoy this movie, even though as we've said right from the start, almost every single character with the exception of Rusty's young son is despicable.
MAITLANDAnd maybe the young attorney too. The younger of the two lawyer -- the defense lawyers, Kemp.
REHMOh, yes, oh, yes.
COBURNThe one who's assisting Stern.
REHMOh, yes. He was a straight guy, absolutely. You know, we haven't mentioned that role Julia played, the defense attorney in the movie with Harrison Ford. He played that so gorgeously and he died.
REHMVery tragically and very young. I'm gonna go back to the phones before I keep on gushing. Let's go to Cheverly, Md. Good morning, Denise.
DENISEGood morning, Diane. Good morning, panel.
DENISEJust to follow up on a statement made by a previous caller, I've always thought that the structure -- the first person structure of the book was brilliant because I thought that especially with the -- Rusty was telling the story to his friends who, I'm sorry, I've forgotten his name, we never really know whether Rusty is telling the truth and whether Barbara is actually the killer.
DENISEI think there's a note of hesitancy and disbelief from his friend at the end. I went back and reread the book as soon as I finished it. Oh, my God, did Turow really do this? And I did not find a single hint or note in the book that where it is definitively stated. I think that a close reading of the book will show that you never really know.
REHMYou don't agree.
MAITLANDYou know what, there was a piece of -- there's a piece of hair that is found at the crime scene which they don't bother to examine because they say it was identified as coming from a female and because they assumed Carolyn was raped, they said it was irrelevant piece of evidence. And...
REHMAnd the coroner was just -- he was fabulously stupid.
MAITLANDRight. So I think that was a hint right back there...
MAITLAND...that there was a female at the scene.
COBURNWell, of course, when Alafair refers to Rusty Sabich as unreliable narrator, I think that's a very accurate characterization, but I don't actually think he's that unreliable. I mean, of course, he could be lying about the whole thing, but that's very -- that's dubious. There is a scene at the very end in which he describes a conversation with his wife in which she starts crying and essentially admits that she's committed the murder.
COBURNAnd so I don't think there's really any ambiguity on that part.
BURKEI thought the only ambiguity was whether she meant for him to be accused of it or whether her story was I meant for you to realize I had done it and that you would hide all the evidence. I never realized somebody else would be in charge and that you would get accused.
REHMI also thought, and maybe I'm reading this wrong, that had he been convicted, she would've gotten up and said...
REHM...I did it.
COBURNShe said she would've.
COBURNShe said she would've. And just to -- and I think that's a very interesting point and picking up on what Alafair was just saying. You know, even at the very end of the book when, you know, when the thing is sort of being described in terms of how it happened and Sabich's recounting it, if you will, to his friend, Lip. He still seems to be a bit in denial...
COBURN...in terms of what her motive was.
COBURNAnd it's really Lipranzer who kind of sets him straight and makes it clear that she really was clearly trying to set him up.
MAITLANDRight. And how he could...
REHMLet's go to St. Augustine, Fla. Good morning, Chip.
CHIPGood morning, glad to be here, a wonderful show.
CHIPI was kind of puzzled as why we were discussing such an old topic, but it was one of my all time favorites.
CHIPThe comment I have and question actually is I often wonder why movie producers or who sets the rules do these sorts of things, but for the end of the film -- the book was tremendous and so I went saw the film. The end of the film should've been scripted by tearing out the back pages of the book and having the actors do that. But somehow they felt it necessary for them to change just a few things and it was not nearly as dramatic as if they, like I say, just played it as the book had it scripted. Can you tell me who makes those decisions and why?
REHMI'm afraid we have no insight about how Hollywood makes its decision, but I'm not quite sure that it was changed all that much.
MAITLANDJust a little bit. Chiefly I would say in terms of the glass because, if you recall, Lipranzer, his friend the cop, brings him the glass as he's packing up.
MAITLANDAnd in his home he realizes that he doesn't have a dozen, he only has 11. And Lipranzer brings him the missing glass. In the movie, they meet on the ferry and he throws it overboard.
REHMAnd Denise Couture, the producer, has just sent me a note saying that Scott Turow himself was unhappy about the director changing sequences of action in the movie. Interesting point. Thanks for calling, Chip. Here's an email from Karen in Indiana. She says, "'Presumed Innocent' remains my all time favorite who-done-it. It's got it all, sex, politics, drama, suspense and the best ending ever. Scott Turow has a particular insight into the psychology of women. Love the scene in the book when Rusty reveals to his wife he's having an affair and breaks down and cries. It made me want to smack him."
REHMGo ahead, Alafair.
BURKEIt's like one of my dog eared pages because we're still getting to know Rusty at that point and also his feelings for Carolyn, if you can call them feelings, but the distain his wife has for him because it's clear that he's confessing not for any reason about their marriage, it's he wants her to feel -- he wants her to feel bad for him because he's lost her. And...
REHM'Cause he's lost Carolyn.
BURKEAnd what she says to him at the end is she -- his wife has just found out he's cheated on her. And all she says to him is, at least I don't have to ask who dropped who. So he wasn't even the one to call it off. He's the loser. He got dumped and is sitting there crying because he lost her, not because he betrayed his wife. And that kind of sums up Rusty and how his wife sees him.
REHMWell, you know, and even Carolyn at one point asks him whether he's going to pursue the DA's job. And he says, you mean go after my own boss' job? No, I'm not prepared to do that. And it is at that point she says, I'm not interested in you anymore. You don't have the ambition I want you to have. You're not a standup guy the way I am willing to go after what I want to have.
MAITLANDI think partly it's her own ambition because if he moves up...
MAITLAND...she'll move up with him...
MAITLAND...she figures. And so he's not playing her game.
MAITLANDBut, you know, Rusty's passivity and his just affect behavior throughout the -- affect-less behavior throughout the whole thing is I think just a theme that runs through the whole thing. And that's, again, why the ending bothers me so much because the fact that he could go back to live with a woman and put his son in the custody of a mother who could do this kind of thing. Not only commit a murder, but to frame her husband and put him through such an ordeal, mind blowing.
REHMRead the next book called "Innocent." You will find out. To Oklahoma City, Derek, you're on the air.
DEREKYes, hello. I listened to the book recently, an audio book version, and...
REHMSo did I.
DEREKOh, great, great. Yeah, I really enjoyed it. And as I listened to it, I was trying to find a good person in it. And I listened to the second book also. And I, you know, I was really struggling with that. And Tommy Molto I think is the only one that stood out to me as one that could, you know, could possibly have any kind of redeeming qualities. I don't know if the author had that intention or not, but I just wondered about your thoughts on that and the panel.
REHMWell, Tommy Molto in the second book turns out to have a soul and have a heart. He has married. He has a child. He is a different man in the second book, but surely not in this first one. Barry.
COBURNWell, the thing that's ironic I think about the way Molto is depicted is that at the very end of the book, all the suspicions in this county seems to be focused on him. He's under investigation. There's a potential loss of his bar license and so on because of this proposition that he may have kind of set Rusty Sabich up, which in fact he didn't. But he is nonetheless I think depicted as a pretty distasteful character, somebody who's kind of over the top angry, hostile and unfair, generally speaking.
REHMTo Plymouth, Mich. Good morning, Jean.
JEANGood morning, Diane. I want to tell you first that I appreciate you every single day.
JEANI did read the book when it was published and I did also see the movie. But for people who don't normally listen to books, I think this is -- I happened to be listening to it when you started the program here. And I'm just stunned at what a wonderful reading it is by Edward Herman.
REHMIt's just fabulous. I do agree with you.
JEANAnd he does all the accents. But it also makes me appreciate the excellent writing apart from the compelling plot and the story and the legal issues, you know, just the writing itself, so powerful.
REHMI do agree with you. And clarity in regard to the law is something that comes through here too, Alafair.
BURKEWell, it's a real challenge with a courtroom based thriller to depict the law accurately and not have it be dry. And he actually I think does a wonderful job using what could be tedious about courtroom procedure and using it to narrative advantage. So you referred to that excellent cross-examination of the scientific expert, Kumagai.
BURKEAnd we don't know yet, right, what Simon Stern knows, what it is he's trying to get out of that witness, but we know that it must be building to something because the nature of a cross-examination is very narrow, one little question upon the next little question because you're trying to box that witness into the money question. And so he uses the slowness of that to advantage 'cause you're sitting there going, when are we gonna find out...
BURKE...when are we gonna find out? But, yeah, he uses the legal form extremely well and continues to use it as a narrative device instead of just showing off, hey, I know my law.
REHMAnd there's another element, the B-file. Barry.
COBURNYeah, well, the B-file is kind of lurking in the background here and it actually becomes a critically important point in terms of what the underlying motivation is for the judge in throwing the case out at the very end of the trial. But just to pick up on what Alafair was saying, you know, trials among a lot of other things really are intrinsically great drama. And Scott Turow I think, you know, by virtue of the fact that he's a trial lawyer himself really knows that. And he depicts it in a very realistic and compelling way I think.
REHMBarry Coburn, he's a trial lawyer here in Washington with the law firm of Coburn and Greenbaum. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you've been wondering about which book we've been talking about, it is, of course, Scott Turow's book, wonderful book, "Presumed Innocent" written back in 1987. We thought you'd enjoy having it as our book for August, a great read at any time, but one especially engaging for the summer. Let's go to Houston, Texas. Good morning, Kay.
KAYGood morning. Thank you for the opportunity to ask about something that really bothered me at the end of the movie.
KAYI was sort of horrified at the prospect of Rusty going on with a sham or at least satisfactory sham marriage to a woman who was psychopathic enough to commit a heinous murder. And one of your guests mentioned it just moments ago, the fact that her child would be growing up in this household. I should've known they were setting us up or should've presumed that there would be a second book.
REHMYeah, there is. Actually it was written I think several years later. Go ahead.
MAITLANDOh, I certainly agree totally. I've...
REHMAbout the son and...
MAITLANDAbout the son -- about his leaving the son with that wife and all. But, in fact, indeed his relationship with his son I think is an interesting thing that we haven't discussed yet, because his own relationship with his father was so fraught he detested his father, who's described as a brutal, angry, miserable man. And he gives a lot of lip service to adoring his son. But we do not see any evidence of -- to speak of, beyond an occasional little league game of his really having a close relationship with his own son. And I think throughout the book we see that the -- that sort of legacy of parent child relationships whose pain is worked out in the next generation.
REHMWhat do you think, Barry?
COBURNWell, just to pick up on what the caller was saying, first if I could, I mean, is it that hard to believe really that it would end the way it did? I mean, you know, you have a situation here with, you know, a guy who was -- he's betrayed his wife. She's committed a horrendous act, you know, but an act that's committed really out of her love, if you will, for him, or desire for him.
REHMIs he gonna take the child's mother away from him?
COBURNAnd he describes her actually in very favorable terms and a lot of different ways. The child obviously loves her very much. And he really in a certain way loves her very much still. So I actually don't find it that hard to believe. And for some reason, I don't find it that hard to accept that he would do it the way he did.
REHMI'm gonna give you one little tip about the next novel which is that she leaves him. She leaves him, she takes the child and other things happen. It's worth reading after you finish this one. We're going to take September off because I'll be away and we'll post our October Readers' Review as soon as we decide on it. But we all, Leslie Maitland, Barry Coburn, Alafair Burke, would certainly recommend Scott Turow's "Presumed Innocent." Thank you all so much.
COBURNThank you so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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