The Barnes & Noble Review
The verdict is in: Popular fiction rarely gets any better, or more involving, than Reversible Errors, Scott Turow’s profoundly satisfying legal thriller, which takes on the charged subject of death penalty litigation.
Set in Turow's familiar fictional venue of Kindle County, Illinois, the story concerns a pathetic, hard-luck career criminal named Rommy Gandolph, a.k.a. Squirrel. Convicted of a particularly vicious triple homicide, Rommy is 33 days away from certain execution. When a convicted criminal with terminal cancer comes forward with a story that casts doubt on Rommy's guilt, it soon becomes clear that more than Squirrel's life is at stake. On one side of the legal line stand ambitious deputy prosecutor Muriel Wynn and veteran homicide detective Larry Starczek, former lovers who were responsible for Rommy's original conviction and whose lives seem seem inextricably connected to this case. On the other side stands Arthur Raven, Rommy's plodding, colorless court-appointed defender. His work is complicated by an evolving friendship with Gillian Sullivan, the disgraced judge who presided over Rommy's initial trial. These four figures -- together with a brilliantly delineated gallery of supporting characters -- form the human center of a fiercely contested legal battle that will alter the destinies of everyone involved.
Turow's knack for convoluted plotting, ability to find drama in the most minute points of law, lively, observant prose, and flawless sense of character lift him into a league of his own when it comes to legal fiction. Reversible Errors -- a wonderfully resonant title -- is a account of love and redemption, crime and punishment, the intricacies of the legal system, the high cost of ambition, and the primal importance of our most basic human connections. Bill Sheehan
The sixth novel from bestseller Turow is a big book about little people in big trouble, involving the death penalty (one of the author's real-life legal specialties), procedural foul-ups and a cast of characters who exemplify the adage about good intentions paving the road to hell. Arthur Raven (a middle-aged, undistinguished lawyer taking care of a schizophrenic sister in a suburb of Chicago) lands a career-making case: the 11th-hour appeal of a quasi-retarded death row inmate, Rommy "Squirrel" Gandolph (accused of triple homicide a decade earlier), on new testimony by a terminally ill convict. Muriel Wynn, an ambitious prosecutor, and Larry Starczek, the detective who originally worked the case, are Raven's adversaries. Plot thickener: Wynn and Starczek are engaged in a longstanding, tortuous, off-again, on-again affair (both being unhappily married) that predates the crime, and which may have indirectly influenced the course of the original investigation. Arthur pulls in the original presiding judge from the case, Gillian Sullivan, just emerging from her own prison stretch for bribery (which masks an even darker secret) to assist him on the case, which leads to another tortuous affair on the defense's side. On top of this (Turow is well known for his many-layered narratives) is the dynamic among the criminals themselves: the dying con may be covering up for his wayward nephew, further muddying the legal waters. The first part of the book, which flips back and forth between the original investigation (1991) and the new trial (2001), is structurally the most demanding, but it is vital to the way in which Turow makes Rommy's case (as well as Arthur's and Muriel's). No character in this novel is entirely likable; all seek to undo some past wrong, with results that get progressively worse. Turow fans should not be disappointed; nor should his publisher.
Turow (Personal Injuries) has said that once he acquired a computer, he stopped developing stories in a linear fashion. His latest novel not only bears out that statement but provides a good example of using a nonlinear structure to build suspense and develop characters. Kindle County defense attorney Arthur Raven is appointed by the court to look into a case that was tried more than a decade ago. In the process, he is forced to revisit not only his client's past but his own. To portray the ever-shifting balance of legal issues in the case in tandem with changes in the characters' emotional and philosophical states during the intervening years, Turow moves skillfully between past and present, revealing tidbits of fact, circumstance, and motive as he goes and leaving it up to the reader not only to construct the story's linear progression but to understand the significance of the book's title as both a legal entity within its plot and a personal reality for its characters. Turow's work once again extends beyond the genre he helped create. Highly recommended.-Nancy McNicol, Whitneyville Branch Lib., Hamden, CT Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
A final appeal from Death Row reopens a decade-old murder case as the world's preeminent legal novelist (Personal Injuries, 1999, etc.) proves once again why his grasp of the moral dimensions of legal problems sets the gold standard for the genre. The cops in Turow's home turf of Kindle County had no trouble solving the Fourth of July Massacre ten years ago because Romeo Gandolph "confessed to everybody but the Daily Planet," as his court-appointed appellate attorney Arthur Raven tells his junior associate Pamela Towns. But now, weeks from execution, Rommy's changed his story. Instead of pleading insanity to the shooting of popular restaurant owner Gus Leonidis and two customers, the acknowledged thief and fence suddenly insists he didn't do it. And improbable, nearly imperceptible cracks begin to appear in the mountain of evidence that aggressive prosecutor Muriel Wynn and her lover Larry Starczek, the lead detective on the case, amassed against Rommy. The DA's office, eager to keep their files tidy, never questioned key witnesses, came up with questionable forensics of one of the victims, and overlooked the possibility that Rommy may already have been in custody when the gun went off. This time around, as Arthur realizes, there's another defendant besides Rommy: Gillian Sullivan, the judge who found him guilty and sentenced him to death before her own conviction and sentence for bribery. Working with Gillian's unwilling help, Arthur manages to get a confession from a long-unsuspected source. Fans of Turow, however, will see this second confession as no more reliable than the first-except as a device to strip away still more layers of deception from troubled characters desperate to breakthe fragile alliances they were desperate to form. No car chases, explosions, threats against the detective, movie-star locations, or gourmet meals: just a deeply satisfying novel about deeply human people who just happen to be victims, schemers, counselors-at-law, or all three at once.
From the Publisher
“No one on the contemporary scene writes better myster-suspense novels than Scott Turow.” Bill Blum, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“When Scott Turow writes about a milieu, he knows whereof he speaks. You know he made it up, but you also know it's real.” George V. Higgins, Chicago Tribune
“Turow brings a literary sensibility to a grit-and-gravel genre: if he calls to mind any comparison, it's to John le Carre. His novels are shaped by [a] studied bleakness, an introspect's embrace of the gray-zone ambiguities of modern life.” Gail Caldwell, The Boston Sunday Globe
“Turow is the class act of legal thriller writers.” Publishers Weekly
“Turow moves skillfully between past and present, revealing tiny tidbits of fact, circumstance, and motive as he goes and leaving it up to the reader not only to construct the story's linear progression but to understand the significance of the book's title as both a legal entity within its plot and a personal reality for its characters.” Library Journal
Read an Excerpt
By Scott Turow
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Copyright © 2002 Scott Turow
All right reserved.
APRIL 20, 2001
Attorney and Client
The client, like most clients, said he was innocent. He was scheduled to die in thirty-three days.
Arthur Raven, his lawyer, was determined not to worry. After all, Arthur reasoned, he was not even a volunteer. Instead, he'd been drafted by the federal appellate court to ensure that after ten years of litigation, no sound arguments remained to save Rommy Gandolph's life. Worrying was not part of the job.
He was worried anyway.
"I'm sorry?" asked Pamela Towns, his young associate, from the passenger's seat. A gurgle of anguish had escaped Arthur as he had come, once again, face-to-face with himself.
"Nothing," said Arthur. "I just hate being the designated loser."
"Then we shouldn't lose." Pamela, with rosy good looks fit for TV news, flashed a bright coast-to-coast grin.
They were far from the city now, doing eighty on cruise control in Arthur's new German sedan. In these parts, the road was so flat and straight, he did not even have to touch the wheel. The prairie farmlands raced by, corn stubble and loam, silent and eternal in the wan light of morning. They had left Center City at seven to beat the traffic. Arthur hoped to hold a brief introductory meeting with their new client, Rommy Gandolph, at the state penitentiary atRudyard and to be back at his desk by two o'clock - or three, if be decided to risk asking Pamela to lunch. He remained intensely conscious of the young woman nearby, of the tawny hair falling softly on her shoulders and of the hand that crept to her thigh every several miles to retract the hiking of her tartan skirt.
Eager as he was to please her, Arthur could offer little hope for the case.
"At this stage," he said, "under the law, the only thing that could possibly amount to reversible error would be new evidence of actual innocence. And we're not going to find that."
"How do you know?" asked Pamela.
"How do I know? Because the man confessed to everybody but the Daily Planet." Ten years ago, Gandolph had copped to the police, then gave a handwritten statement to the prosecutor, Muriel Wynn and finally repeated his admissions on videotape. On each occasion, he had acknowledged he was the person who'd shot two men and a woman and left them in a restaurant food locker in a case still referred to, in the tempered words of the press, as 'the Fourth of July Massacre.'
"Well, he kept saying on the phone he's innocent," said Pamela. "It's possible, isn't it?"
For Arthur, who had been a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney before coming to work seven years ago at O'Grady, Steinberg, Marconi and Horgan, there was no possibility of that at all. But Pamela, at twenty-five or twenty-six, had just started practice. Saving an innocent client was the sort of adventure she'd imagined in law school, riding like Joan of Arc toward radiant justice. Instead, she'd settled for a big law firm and $120,000 a year. But why not have everything? Well, you couldn't blame people for their fantasies. God knows, Arthur Raven realized that.
"Listen to what I found in Rommy's probation records," said Pamela. "On July 5, 1991, he was sentenced to time served for a violation of probation. The murders were early on July 4th. So 'time served' would mean he was in jail, wouldn't it?"
"It would mean he was in jail at some point. Not necessarily on July 4th. Does his rap sheet show he was in jail on July 4th?"
"No. But it's something to investigate, isn't it?"
It would have been something to investigate a decade ago, when the records to prove it was nonsense still existed. Yet even at that, the federal appeals court was likely to grant Gandolph a brief stay of execution, during which Arthur and Pamela would be obliged to scramble in dogged - and futile - pursuit of this phantom theory.
Rankled by the prospect of more wasted time, Arthur nudged the cruise control wand a bit higher and felt some dim satisfaction in the big auto's response. He had purchased the car two months ago as a trophy of sorts after he became a full partner in his law firm. It was one of the few luxuries he'd ever permitted himself, but he had barely turned the key when he began to feel he was disrespecting the memory of his father, who had recently passed, a loving man, but one whose eccentricities had included a cramped frugality.
"And listen to this," Pamela was saying. She had withdrawn Rommy Gandolph's rap sheet from the thick folder on her lap and read out the entries. Gandolph was a thief and a fence. He'd had half a dozen convictions - burglary, theft, possession of stolen property several times. "But nothing with a gun," said Pamela. "No violence. No female victims. How does he suddenly become a rapist and a murderer?"
"Practice, practice, practice," answered Arthur.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Pamela's full mouth turn briefly downward. He was screwing this up. As always. Arthur did not know exactly what he had done wrong with women to leave him single at the age of thirty-eight. Appearance was one issue, he realized. He'd had the droop and pallor of middle age since his teens. In law school, he'd had a brief, hurtful marriage to Marjya, a Romanian immigrant. After that, for a period he'd seemed to have neither the inclination nor the time to start again. He had given so much to the law - so much fury and passion in every case, so many nights and weekends where he actually felt pleasure in having solitary time to concentrate. And his father's declining health, and the question of what would become of his sister, Susan, had also been draining preoccupations for years. But now, seeking even the faintest sign that Pamela had some interest in him, he felt humbled by his foolishness. His hopes with her were as unlikely as hers for Gandolph. He felt the need to chasten them both.
"Look," said Arthur, "our client, Gandolph. 'Rommy'? Not only did Rommy confess early and often, but when he went to trial, his defense was insanity. Which requires his lawyer to admit Rommy committed the crime. Then we have ten more years of appeals, and post-conviction petitions, and habeas corpus proceedings, with two different sets of new attorneys, and none of them happens to mention that Rommy is the wrong man. Let alone Rommy, who only remembered that he didn't do it when he was about forty-five days away from getting the needle. Really, Pamela. Do you think he told the lawyers before us he was innocent? Every con knows this game - new lawyers, new story."
Arthur smiled, attempting to appear worldly-wise, but the truth was he'd never really accommodated himself to criminal defendants' shenanigans. Since leaving the Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Arthur had played defense lawyer infrequently, only when one of the firm's corporate clients or its bosses was suspected of some financial manipulation. The law he lived most days as a civil litigator was a tidier, happier law, where both sides fudged and the issues raised were minuscule matters of economic policy. His years as a prosecutor seemed to be a time when he'd been assigned each day to clean out a flooded basement where coliform bacteria and sewer stink rotted almost everything. Someone had said that power corrupted. But the saying applied equally to evil. Evil corrupted. A single twisted act, some piece of gross psychopathology that went beyond the boundaries of what almost anybody else could envision - father who tossed his infant out a tenth-floor window; a former student who forced lye down the throat of a teacher; or someone like Arthur's new client who not only killed but then sodomized one of the corpses - the backflow from such acts polluted everyone who came near. Cops. Prosecutors. Defense lawyers. Judges. No one in the face of these horrors reacted with the dispassion the law supposed. There was a single lesson: things fall apart. Arthur had harbored no desire to return to that realm where chaos was always imminent.
In another fifteen minutes they had arrived there. Rudyard was a small town like many others in the Middle West, its core a few dark buildings, still smudged with coal soot, and several tin hangars with corrugated plastic roofs that housed various farm services. At the outskirts, a kind of mini-suburbanization was under way, with strip malls and tract homes, the result of the economic security afforded by an unusual anchor industry - the prison.
When they turned a corner on a movie-set neighborhood of maple trees and small frame houses, the facility suddenly loomed at the end of the block, like a horror-flick monster jumping out of a closet, a half-mile continuum of randomly connected yellow-brick buildings, notable for the narrowness of the few windows. Those structures in turn surrounded an old stone edifice stout enough to have survived from the Middle Ages. Toward the perimeter lay not only a ten-foot brick wall, but a graveled moat of projecting stainless steel spikes, and beyond that a boundary of cyclone fencing supporting five-foot spirals of razor wire, brilliant in the sun.
In the prison guardhouse, they signed in, then were directed to a worn bench for the long wait while Rommy was brought down. In the interval, Arthur reviewed Rommy's letter, which had arrived via various intermediate hands at the Court of Appeals. It was composed in a hodgepodge scrawl, with multicolored markings and other features too irregular even to be called childish. Just looking at the letter, you knew that Rommy Gandolph was both desperate and crazy.
Excerpted from Reversible Errors by Scott Turow Copyright © 2002 by Scott Turow
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.