Turow, Scott 1949-
TUROW, Scott 1949-
PERSONAL: Born April 12, 1949, in Chicago, IL; son of David D. (a physician) and Rita (a writer; maiden name, Pastron) Turow; married Annette Weisberg (an artist), April 4, 1971; children: Rachel, Gabriel, Eve. Education: Amherst College, B.A., 1970; Stanford University, M.A., 1974; Harvard University, J.D., 1978. Religion: Jewish.
CAREER: Attorney and novelist. Stanford University, Stanford, CA, E. H. Jones Lecturer in Creative Writing, 1972-75; Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, Boston, MA, clerk, 1977-78; U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh District, Chicago, IL, assistant U.S. district attorney, 1978-86; Sonnenschein, Carlin, Nath, & Rosenthal (law firm), Chicago, partner, beginning 1986. Writer, 1972—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Writing award, College English Association/Book-of-the-Month Club, 1970; Edith Mirrielees fellow, 1972; Silver Dagger Award, Crime Writers Association, 1988, for Presumed Innocent; Writer for Writers award, 2001.
One L: An Inside Account of Life in the First Year atHarvard Law School (nonfiction), Putnam (New York, NY), 1977.
Presumed Innocent (novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1987.
The Burden of Proof (novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1990.
Pleading Guilty (novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1993.
The Laws of Our Fathers (novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1996.
Personal Injuries (novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1999.
(Editor) Guilty As Charged: A Mystery Writers ofAmerica Anthology, Compass Press (Thorndike, ME), 2001.
Reversible Errors, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2002.
Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty (nonfiction), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2003.
Also author of unpublished novel The Way Things Are. Work anthologized in Best American Short Stories, 1971, 1972. Contributor of stories, articles, and reviews to literary journals, including Transatlantic Review, Ploughshares, Harvard, New England, and Place, and to newspapers.
ADAPTATIONS: Presumed Innocent, a film based on Turow's novel of the same title, was released by Warner Bros., written by Frank Pierson and Alan J. Pakula, directed by Pakula, starring Harrison Ford, Bonnie Bedelia, Brian Dennehy, and Raul Julia, 1990; The Burden of Proof, a two-part television film based on the novel, was adapted by John Gay and starred Hector Elizondo, Brian Dennehy, and Adrienne Barbeau, 1992; Reversible Errors was adapted as a television miniseries in 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Scott Turow uses his insider's knowledge of the American legal system to form the basis for best-selling suspense novels. A practicing attorney who has also studied creative writing, Turow explores the murky terrain of urban justice through highly plotted fiction. "No one on the contemporary scene writes better mystery-suspense novels than Chicago attorney Scott Turow," noted Bill Blum in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. "In a genre overcrowded with transparent plots and one-dimensional super-sleuths, Turow's first novel, Presumed Innocent, was a work of serious fiction as well as a gripping tale of murder and courtroom drama." New York Times Magazine correspondent Jeff Shear praised Turow for the "brash, backroom sensibility that informs his work as a novelist." Noting the range of legal thrillers available to readers, Trial reviewer Rebecca Porter noted that Turrow's 2003 novel Reversible Errors is exceptional due to the author's "refusal to paint the issue in black and white." Turow's "characters are challenged morally, ethically, and emotionally," Porter added—"- and respond with a depth lacking in most legal potboilers. Add an intricate plot, in which Good and Evil are both clothed in gray, and the reader can't plow through without paying attention."
It is a rare writer indeed who collects millions of dollars from a first novel. Even more rare is the author who crafts a novel while holding a full-time, high-profile job. Turow did both, writing drafts of Presumed Innocent in his spare moments on the commuter train while working as an assistant U.S. district attorney in Chicago. Washington Post contributor Steve Coll wrote that through his determination to write fiction without sacrificing his profession, Turow "has fulfilled every literate working stiff's fantasy."
For his part, Turow maintains that his background in the legal system has provided him with subject matter for fiction as well as practical experience in crafting a narrative. He told a Publishers Weekly writer, "As a lawyer, I never decided I didn't want to be a writer. I decided it would have to be a private passion, rather than something I could use. . . . My idea was to stay alive as a writer, just to continue to nurture that part of my soul." Turow not only "stayed alive" as a writer, he prospered. His novels have topped the best-seller lists and have found favor with many of the nation's book critics. Time reviewer Paul Gray contended that the author's works "revolve around a nexus of old-fashioned values: honesty, loyalty, trust. When those values are violated—sometimes salaciously, always entertainingly—lawyers and the legal system rush in to try to set things right again. But the central quest in Turow's fiction is not for favorable verdicts but for the redemption of souls, the healing of society. Best-sellers seldom get more serious than that."
Turow was born and raised in the Chicago area, the son of an obstetrician. In his early years the family lived in the city. Later they moved to an affluent suburb, Winnetka, Illinois, where Turow attended New Trier High School. As the author told a Washington Post contributor, he inherited his own driving ambition from his father, who was "out delivering babies at all hours of the day and night and wasn't around very much." The author added, "I suppose that's the embedded mental image of the hard-working male that I have become." Both of Turow's parents helped to nurture that spirit of hard work, because they wanted their son to become a physician too. Turow had other ideas, however. Even though he flunked freshman English at New Trier High, he grew to love writing, eventually becoming the editor of the school newspaper. He decided he wanted to be a writer, so enrolled in Amherst College in Massachusetts as an English major.
At Amherst Turow began to write short stories and novels, and a few of his short pieces were printed in literary magazines such as the Transatlantic Review, a rare feat for an undergraduate. After earning his bachelor's degree in 1970, Turow won a fellowship to the Stanford University creative-writing program. There he taught while working on a novel about Chicago called The Way Things Are. He began to question the direction of his career when he received twenty-five rejections for his completed manuscript; only one publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, offered even the slightest encouragement. Turow told a New York Times Magazine writer that the cool reception his novel earned "made me realize that I wasn't one-tenth the writer I hoped to be. . . . I could not sustain the vision of myself as a writer only." In a Los Angeles Times interview he said, "I became convinced that one could not make a living in the U.S. writing serious fiction. I was never terribly bitter about that. I didn't see why the world had an obligation to support novelists."
Even while writing The Way Things Are Turow was becoming interested in the law, and in 1975, he entered Harvard Law School. Even then he put his writing talents to work. When his literary agent secured him a contract for a personal, nonfiction account of the first year in the law school, Turow took notes during his hectic class schedule and finished the book during summer recess. In 1977 Putnam published Turow's One L: An Inside Account of Life in the First Year at Harvard Law School. The work sold modestly at first, but it eventually became "required reading for anyone contemplating a career in law," noted Justin Blewitt in Best Sellers. New York Times critic P. M. Stern called One L "a compelling and important book. It is compelling in its vivid portrayal of the high-tension competitiveness of Harvard Law School and of the group madness it seems to induce in the student body. It is important because it offers an inside look at what law students do and don't learn and who they are and are not equipped to represent when they graduate."
After receiving his law degree in 1978, Turow returned to Chicago to work with the U.S. District Attorney's office there. As a prosecutor, he was assigned to the infamous "Operation Greylord," a series of trials that exposed judicial corruption in the city's courts. Little by little, the intrigues of corruption and legal wrangling began to work their way into the notebooks Turow kept for his fiction. He set aside a novel he was drafting and began to tinker with a story about an attorney. "I was learning a lot about bribery and I wanted to write about that," he told the Washington Post.
For several years Turow did his writing in the little spare time left him after meeting the demands of Operation Greylord and his growing family in the suburbs. He edited chapters of his new novel during his commute to and from work on the train and rose early in the morning to work on his fiction before he left for the office. Finally, his wife convinced him to quit his job and finish the novel. He accepted a partnership at the downtown Chicago firm of Sonnenschein, Carlin, Nath & Rosenthal and then took a three-month hiatus from the firm in order to write. His finished manuscript was mailed to a New York agent just two weeks before he was due to start his new job.
Turow was confident that his novel would be published, but he was astonished by the level of interest shown by New York's biggest publishing houses. A bidding war ensued over the rights to publish the work, and the sums soon exceeded $200,000. Ultimately, Turow did not choose the high bidder but instead took an offer from Farrar, Straus because of the firm's literary reputation—and because of the encouragement he had received from its editors during his student days. The $200,000 payment Farrar, Straus offered Turow was the largest sum that company had ever paid for a first novel.
Presumed Innocent tells the story of a troubled deputy prosecutor in a big city who is assigned to investigate the murder of a female colleague. As the nightmare case unfolds, the prosecutor, Rusty Sabich, finds himself on trial for murdering the woman with whom he once had an adulterous affair. Gray wrote that in Presumed Innocent Turow "uses [a] grotesque death as a means of exposing the trail of municipal corruption that has spread through [fictitious] Kindle County. The issue is not merely whether a murderer will be brought to justice but whether public institutions and their guardians are any longer capable of finding the truth." Turow told Publishers Weekly that his book is "a comment on the different kinds of truth we recognize. If the criminal-justice system is supposed to be a truth-finding device, it's an awkward one at best. There are all kinds of playing around in the book that illuminate that, and yet by the same token, the results in the end are just. And that's not accidental. . . . Absolutely everybody in the novel is guilty of something. That's a truth of life that I learned as a prosecutor. We all do things we wish we hadn't done and that we're not necessarily proud of."
Fellow attorney-turned-author George V. Higgins noted in the Chicago Tribune that Presumed Innocent is a "beautifully crafted tale. . . . Packed with data, rich in incident, painstakingly imagined, it snags both of your lapels and presses you down in your chair until you've finished it." Toronto Globe & Mail correspondent H. J. Kirchhoff called the novel "surprisingly assured," adding, "The prose is crisp and polished, every character is distinct and fully realized, and the dialogue is authentic. Turow has blended his experience in the rough-and-tumble of the criminal courts with a sympathetic eye for the vagaries of the human condition and an intimate understanding of the dark side of the human soul." Shear concluded that the criminal-justice system Presumed Innocent portrays, "without tears or pretense, has seldom appeared in literature quite like this."
"Presumed Innocent won the literary lottery," observed Mei-Mei Chan in USA Weekend. The novel spent more than forty-three weeks on the best-seller lists, went through sixteen hardcover printings, and sold four million paperback copies. Turow reaped three million dollars for the paperback rights and another one million dollars for the movie rights. A film adaptation of the work, released in 1990, was one of the ten top-grossing movies of that year. When Turow published his second novel—almost simultaneously with the debut of the movie version of Presumed Innocent—he joined the ranks of Ernest Hemingway, J. D. Salinger, and Alex Haley by becoming the ninety-second writer to appear on the cover of Time magazine.
By the time The Burden of Proof appeared in the summer of 1990, Turow had established a routine that included several hours a day for his writing. He still practiced law, but he spent his mornings at home, in contact with the downtown firm by telephone and fax machine. His schedule remained daunting, however, as his celebrity status made him a sought-after interview subject in the various media. But, as Turow told New York Times Magazine, he does his best work under such pressure. "I run on a combination of fear, anxiety, and compulsion," he said. "I have to control my habit to work all the time."
The Burden of Proof takes its hero from among the characters in Presumed Innocent. Sandy Stern is a middle-aged defense attorney who returns home from a business trip to find his wife dead in an apparent suicide. As he confronts the loss and the circumstances behind it, he becomes enmeshed in a web of family intrigues, insider stock trading schemes, and unanswered questions about his wife's private life. Toronto Globe & Mail reviewer Margaret Cannon wrote that in The Burden of Proof Turow "has let his imagination loose and, while courtroom derring-do is still a hefty part of the plot, it doesn't subsume the tragic story about some very damaged people." In the Washington Post Book World, Jonathan Yardley wrote that "Turow's second novel proves beyond any reasonable doubt that his hugely successful first was no fluke. . . . It's that rare book, a popular novel that is also serious, if not 'literary' fiction. The Burden of Proof means to entertain, and does so with immense skill, so if all you want is intelligent amusement it will serve you handily: but it is also a complex, multilayered meditation on 'the heartsore arithmetic of human events,' and as such rises far above the norm of what is generally categorized as 'commercial' fiction."
Turow's third novel, Pleading Guilty, broke new ground for the author. "Although fully peopled with lawyers," explained Charles Champlin in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "the story hardly peeps into a courtroom." A high-placed partner in a prestigious Midwestern law firm has suddenly gone missing, along with about five and a half million dollars of the firm's funds. Instead of calling in the police (which would raise a scandal and cost the firm business), the partners turn to one of their employees, Mack Malloy, a former policeman, to find the missing partner and the missing money. In the process, Malloy encounters a body in a refrigerator, an old nemesis, and, eventually, the missing man and money. "Pleading Guilty, written as Mack's diary of the . . . events, demonstrates that Mr. Turow, at his best descriptive form, is worthy to be ranked with Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler," said Champlin. "Scott Turow writes as well as ever," declared Washington Post Book World contributor Ross Thomas, "and is skilled enough not only to entertain his readers but also convince them they are acquiring vital inside stuff about the legal profession."
Although The Laws of Our Fathers reintroduces Turow's famous court scenes, it also moves in different directions compared to the author's previous work. The shooting death of the wife of a state senator reunites a group of 1960s radicals who had been friends but had gone their separate ways at the end of the decade. "The novel is less a legal thriller than a meditative examination of the hold that time past exerts over time present," said Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times Book Review. "Beneath the layers of a deep legal deviousness," stated a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "Turow never lets you forget that his characters lived and loved before they ever got dragged into court." "The resulting story is by turns moving and manipulative, compelling and contrived," Kakutani concluded. "Though deeply flawed, it stands as Mr. Turow's most ambitious novel yet."
Robbie Feaver is the failed actor and corrupt personal injury lawyer of Personal Injuries, a novel based on elements of Turow's experiences with Operation Greylord. "Without knowing anything about the Greylord case, I can attest that this novel has the ring of authenticity," wrote Dennis Drabelle in the Washington Post Book World. "It blends widespread graft, a spidery villain insulated at the heart of a complex web, suffering, murder, suicide, and also a measure of humor into a narrative that proceeds with the inevitability—and the surprises—of real life." The story is narrated by Feaver's lawyer, George Mason, called "a colorless fellow who readily admits that he did not witness most of the events he is describing," said Kakutani.
Feaver pays off judges from a secret bank account which is discovered by the F.B.I. while the agency is setting up a sting to nail those judges. Feaver is offered an ultimatum—wear a wire and turn informant or face prosecution. Feaver, a womanizer, but devoted to his wife dying of Lou Gehrig's disease, is assigned an F.B.I. agent, Evon Miller, who, because she is a lesbian, resists Feaver's charm. Gary Krist wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "to watch the two of them gradually probing the multiple veils, curtains, and trapdoors of each other's personalities, penetrating a little deeper each time, is to experience the kind of reading pleasure that only the best novelists—genre or otherwise—can provide. . . .And Robbie Feaver may be [Turow's] most inspired creation yet—a slick, mercurial, bighearted con artist, as flawed yet somehow as noble as those tragic figures he never got to play onstage."
In reviewing the novel for Salon.com, Jonathan Groner wrote that "the book doesn't pack much mystery. . . . Once the main action is under way and Feaver, wired for sight and sound, has set out among the judges and the courtroom lackeys, there are few surprises. But Personal Injuries succeeds as a long look at a world where greed, sloth, and lust holds sway despite the efforts of some good men and women." Drabelle concluded by saying that "lawyers like to differentiate between substance, the content of the law, and procedure, the steps by which you make the system work. In Turow's first novel, Presumed Innocent, substance dominated, in the form of a magnificently surprising answer to the whodunit question. Personal Injuries holds no similar shock, but the loving attentiveness to procedure—the nuts and bolts of that sting—makes it an absorbing crime novel, perhaps Turow's best."
In Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty, Turow tackles the controversial issue of capital punishment. He first lays the groundwork by providing a history of the death penalty in America, along with overviews of the differing positions on its use. Laurie Selwyn of Library Journal praised the book for its even-handed approach to the issue, adding that it is "useful for law, debate, political science, and ethics students." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly found the book to be "a sober and elegantly concise examination" containing "useful insights into this fiercely debated subject." William Vance Trollinger, Jr. of the Christian Century found Turow's book compelling. In his review, he wrote, "Those who carefully follow his reasoning will not be surprised when, at the end, he declares that he is now opposed to capital punishment. But his compelling logic leaves us with a crucial question: Why do so many Americans and American politicians continue to support the death penalty?"
Turow has said repeatedly that he does not intend to retire from his law practice, even though the profits from his writing career give him that option. The author told the Chicago Tribune that he spent many years defining himself as a writer before he became a lawyer. "I really didn't have any sense of identity as a lawyer. I really felt I was faking it," he said. "Somewhere along the way that changed; somewhere along the line I went through this kind of shift of identity. People ask me what I do. I certainly answer I am a lawyer. I don't say I'm a writer. I find that kind of a grandiose claim for somebody who spends sixty hours a week doing something else." Turow told Publishers Weekly that he is grateful for the level of success he has achieved with his books but that his perspective on writing has not changed. "Making money was not my intention," he said. "I wrote out of the same impulse that everyone else writes out of—I wrote because there were parts of my experience that I could best deal with that way." He concluded, "Obviously it was enormously fulfilling."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bestsellers 90, issue 3, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1991.
Contemporary Popular Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Lundy, Derek, Scott Turow: Meeting the Enemy, ECW Press, 1995.
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Best Sellers, November, 1977, Justin Blewitt, review of One L: An Inside Account of Life in the First Year at Harvard Law School.
Booklist, July, 1999, review of Personal Injuries, p. 1896; September 1, 2002, Kristine Huntley, review of Reversible Errors, p. 8.
Books, autumn, 1999, review of Personal Injuries, p. 19.
Chicago Tribune, June 7, 1987; June 10, 1987; February 16, 1990.
Christian Century, February 10, 2004, William Vance Trollinger, Jr., "No More Death Row," p. 24.
Christian Science Monitor, October 24, 2000, "OneL—a Survivor's Tale," p. 13.
Esquire, October, 1999, review of Personal Injuries, p. 84.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), July 11, 1987; August 8, 1987; June 16, 1990; October 9, 1999, review of Personal Injuries, p. D15; November 27, 1999, review of Personal Injuries, p. D50.
Harper's Bazaar, June, 1990.
Interview, June, 1990, p. 170.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1996, review of The Laws of Our Fathers, p. 1090; July 1, 1999, review of Personal Injuries, p. 997.
Kliatt, November, 1998, review of The Laws of OurFathers, p. 49; May, 2003, Sue Rosenzweig, review of Reversible Errors, p. 63.
Ladies' Home Journal, July, 1996, p. 124.
Library Journal, August, 1996, p. 115; August, 1999, review of Personal Injuries, p. 143; March 1, 2004, Laurie Selwyn, review of Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty, p. 127.
Los Angeles Times, July 24, 1987; October 12, 1989; June 11, 1990; July 27, 1990; September 9, 1990.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 3, 1990; June 13, 1993, Charles Champlin, review of Pleading Guilty, p. 11; October 10, 1999, review of Personal Injuries, p. 10; September 15, 2003, Stephen L. Hupp, review of Reversible Errors, p. 106.
New Republic, March 14, 1994, pp. 32-38.
Newsweek, October 17, 1977; June 29, 1987; June 4, 1990; July 5, 1993; July 26, 1993; September 27, 1999, review of Personal Injuries, p. 66.
New York Times, September 15, 1977; February 8, 1987; June 15, 1987; August 6, 1987; December 1, 1987; April 19, 1988; May 31, 1990.
New York Times Book Review, September 25, 1977; June 28, 1987, pp. 1, 29; June 3, 1990; June 6, 1993, p. 7; October 8, 1996, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Laws of Our Fathers, p. 4; October 5, 1999, Michiko Kakutani, "The Case of a Lawyer and His Judicial Sting," p. 6; October 24, 1999, Gary Krist, "When in Doubt, Lie," p. 7.
New York Times Magazine, June 7, 1987, Jeff Shear, review of Presumed Innocent.
Publishers Weekly, July 10, 1987; September 15, 1989; April 1, 1996, p. 22; August 2, 1999, review of Personal Injuries, p. 69; November 1, 1999, review of Personal Injuries, p. 47; August 19, 2002, review of Reversible Errors, p. 64; August 25, 2003, review of Ultimate Punishment, p. 48.
Time, July 20, 1987, Paul Gray, review of PresumedInnocent; June 11, 1990; October 18, 1999, review of Personal Injuries, p. 114; September 6, 1999, review of Personal Injuries, p. 76; December 20, 1999, review of Personal Injuries, p. 104.
Times Literary Supplement, November 5, 1999, review of Personal Injuries, p. 24.
Trial, March, 2003, Rebecca Porter, review of Reversible Errors, p. 68.
USA Weekend, June 1, 1990, Mei-Mei Chan, review of Presumed Innocent.
Wall Street Journal, October 1, 1999, Nicholas Kulish, review of Personal Injuries, p. 6.
Washington Post, October 2, 1977; August 30, 1987; June 9, 1990; June 12, 1990; July 27, 1990.
Washington Post Book World, June 3, 1990; December 2, 1990; June 27, 1993, Ross Thomas, review of Pleading Guilty, pp. 1, 8; October 3, 1999, Dennis Drabelle, "Legal Lies," p. 5.
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (October 1, 2001), James Buckley, Jr., "Going Undercover in Life and Law: A Talk with Scott Turow."
January Magazine,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (November, 1999), Shannon O'Leary, "Legal Letdown."
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (October 5, 1999), Jonathan Groner, review of Personal Injuries.
Scott Turow Home Page,http://www.scottturow.com/ (September 10, 2004).*