The Laws of Our Fathersby Scott Turow
In Kindle County, a woman is killed in an apparent random drive-by shooting. The woman turns out to be the ex-wife of a prominent state senator and an old acquaintance of Judge Sonia Klonsky, on whose desk the case lands. As the pursuit of justice takes bizarre and unusual turns, Judge Klonsky is brought face-to-face with a host of extraordinary personalities and formidable enemies bent on her destruction.
The present-day story begins with the death of inoffensive June Eddgar, victim of a daybreak drive-by shooting. Investigating officers, who waste no time turning eyewitness Ordell Trent, a.k.a. Hardcore, figure the dead woman, who'd been driving a car belonging to her husband, State Senator Loyell Eddgar, was killed in error for him, and on the orders of Eddgar's son Nile, Hardcore's probation officer, whose reasons for ordering his father's execution Kindle County prosecutors are only too eager to unfold to Judge Sonia Klonsky. But Sonny Klonsky brings her own baggage to the case. Back in her college days, her political convictions and her hell-raising social life had brought her together with June Eddgar, unofficial den mother to campus radicals; Nile's baby-sitter Seth Weissman, who shared Sonny's bed and board; and Hobie Tuttle, the D.C. lawyer who's now defending Nile. As the case against Nile lurches forwardreplete with all the courtroom razzle-dazzle you'd expect from Turow, and the revelations of character and milieu you wouldn't expect from anyone elseSonny's voice increasingly yields to Seth's. Determined to avoid the draft by fleeing to Canada, and devoutly (if symbolically) attached to the cause of Cleveland Marsh, a jailed Black Panther whose bail he wishes he could post, he plots to combine his two goals by faking his own kidnappinga plot that spirals out of control with fatal consequences for himself, his parents, and, yes, the Eddgar family.
Beneath the layers of deep legal deviousness, Turow never lets you forget that his characters lived and loved before they ever got dragged into court, and that they have lives to go back to after the final gavel comes down.
“Spectacularly worth the wait... Turow's grasp of the revolutionary fervor of the '60s and how it has later calmed into rueful, if still compassionate, acceptance, is masterly.” Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“The undisputed king of contemporary legal intrigue ... offers a sumptuous triple-decker.” Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
“Turow's most ambitious novel yet.” The New York Times
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The Laws of Our Fathers
By Scott Turow
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 1996 Scott Turow
All rights reserved.
September 7, 1995
Dawn. The air is brackish, although this place is miles from water. The four high-rise towers hulk amid a hardened landscape of brick, of tar and pavement broken by weeds, of crushed Coke cups and candy wrappers, of fly-about newspaper pages. A silvery bedding of broken glass, the remnants of smashed bottles, glitters prettily — one more false promise. It is a time of uncommon quiet. In the night, there are often sounds of life at the extreme: outcries and drunken yells, machines at volume. Sometimes gunfire. The day brings voices, children, the many stand-abouts, the species at large. Now the wind is up, whistling in the fence links and on the bricks. At the prospect of motion, the man walking this way looks up abruptly, but there is only a dog huddled in a gap between the buildings who, out of some animal instinct, has determined, across the distance of a hundred yards, to have no truck with him. A single used tire sits, inexplicably, on the cracked blacktop of the play yard.
The man, Ordell, is almost thirty-six years old. He still maintains some of his penitentiary build, buffed up, he'd say, although he's been out again four years now. He is dressed simply, black shirt and trousers. No gold. 'Don't wear you no gold when you workin,' he often advises the Unborns, the eight-and nine-and ten-year-old wannabes who trail after him, complimenting his appearance and offering to do him favors, when he arrives here most afternoons. 'Hardcore,' they always goin, 'get you Co-Cola by Ko-rea?' like he don't know they aimin to keep the change.
This morning, Ordell Trent, gang name Hardcore, is alone. The building he approaches, the tallest of the four which comprise the Grace Street Projects, has come over the years to be called by everyone 'the I.V. Tower,' due supposedly to the Roman numerals, but most suspect the label originated with the familiar mockery of the residents practiced by the police, who refer to the building among themselves as the Ivory Tower. The open structures — windows, porches, connecting walkways — are caged in mesh of heavy gauge. Formerly, from the gangways and balconies refuse was sometimes thrown, bricks were tossed down on enemies as in the Middle Ages, drunks and dopeheads stumbled to their death, and several persons were pushed. Around three or four windows you can see the ragged blackening marks of bygone fires and at street level, on the bricks, in rounded letters, the initials of Ordell's gang have been inscribed in phosphorescent colors etched in black: "BSD." Black Saints Disciples. His set — the branch of the gang which Ordell heads — the T — 4 Rollers, is often celebrated, too, and some daring members of Gangster Outlaws, a rival organization, have also put their marks here, wallbanging, as it is known. Occasional messages of personal affirmation, quickly sprayed, appear now and then as well. "D'Ron Is Cool." "Lucifer!"
Inside, Ordell nods to security, Chuck, he named, chump rent-a-cop from Kindle County Housing Authority, huddled in a concrete shelter with a small window of bulletproof glass. Chuck gettin half-a-one — fifty dollars — every month from Ordell, and Chuck, he like to love Hardcore, man, see him, Chuck damn well salute. In the entry, the sole illumination is from a Pepsi machine, with a heavy padlock. Every electrical fixture is gone, stolen to sell, or put out by some Saint who prefers to do business in the dark. Bare wires in twisted bunches snake from the walls. The atmosphere is sodden with the bitter reek of hallway filth and broken plumbing. The paint is old; the pipes, exposed overhead, have grown rust stains and mold. The impression is of a bunker — something built to survive the bomb. The floor is concrete, the walls are cinder block. Everything — everything — is marked with gang signs: the Saints' halo, the capped '4' which represents the T-4 Rollers, and names — "D-town," "Mike-o-Mite," "Baby Face," "Priest" — written in school markers or, more often, smoked into the plasterboard or paint with a cigarette lighter.
The elevator, one of them, is working again today and Hardcore rides to 17. The first five floors of this building are more or less deserted now, given up by folks who found even $38.50 a month too high a price for a life where beds had to be placed on the floors to avoid the gunfire, where the safest sleeping was in the bathtub. When he lets himself in, Hardcore hears the old woman's husky breath, clotted by the deteriorations of living, emerging from one of the two back rooms he lets her have.
Ordell has the two front rooms. Where he watches. From up here, he can see the entire operation. Sometimes the police — 'Tic-Tac,' as the Saints call the Kindle County Municipal Police Force Tactical Unit — the ones who won't accept Hardcore's money and a few who do, sit down there and watch. They're wondering, he knows. How come this nigger so cool, how come it freeze up whenever they on the scene? Because Ordell sees. From here. He got all them tiny gangsters — the youngest gang members — 'peepers,' as they're called, rovin, scopin. Any po-lice, any rent-a-cop, any limp DEA, any them mothers truck into them towers, Hardcore gone know. On the street that cuts a perpendicular, there are two three-flats and some tiny gangsters down there on the steps each day, servicing the cars that pull up. They got rock, bottles, crank, sometime pills. Some Top Rank Gangsters, veterans in BSD, they-all slang a couple zones — sell a couple ounces — to they homies every week, be tight, all they need. Not Ordell. He got him houses and ladies, he got a Blazer and a slick BMW 755, shit, he got his gold, but what be fat and all is this thang, what he got goin here — 'DJs,' so called, to mix the stuff, and 'scramblers,' who get paid in drugs to make the connections, 'mules' to carry it and move it two times every day from the garages and apartments where it's stored, and his 'artillery,' Honcho, Gorgo, and them, armed motherfuckers so nobody think they can move up on Ordell. Seventy-five people, sometime a hundred, and Hardcore watchin over: Go here, mother, go there, don't get beat by no snitch, don't deal with no nare, don't mess with no rings or gold, see cash, man, do it! That's what he wants, somethin happenin, man, every day.
Now, slightly past 6:00, his beeper alerts, vibrating at his hip. Hardcore curses aloud when he inspects the readout: Nile. More whining. "Too late for that shit," he notes to himself. At his voice, the old woman's rasping breath briefly ceases. Perhaps she is awake now, listening, pressing at her grey hair, snuffling and clearing her throat in hopes he'll leave. Here in the front room, there is nothing. Two chairs. Old newspapers. The concrete floor holds the sallow glimmer of the early light. The rug was stolen long ago.
This was her apartment, raised her children here, the boy in Rudyard, two boys, Ordell thinks, and some bitch, a silly pipehead selling what she can out on the street. In the pen, the boys come to Jesus and busted out, quit BSD. So Ordell's set moved in here. The old woman was tough. 'You-all go on, shoot and kill me, do whatever you-all like, I ain movin out, this here's my house, I ain givin my house to no bunch of silly-ass hoodlums.'
T-Roc, one of BSD's two heads, Vice-Lord he called — TRoc told Hardcore straight up, 'Do just like she say, man, fade her.' Hardcore, he put in work for his, done whatever for BSD, be a bar-none Saint and all, but he don't fall to cappin no old lady. He decided leave her stay.
'And I ain gone have no dope-peddlin or whorin or any other gangbanger whatnot in here neither,' she'd said to Ordell.
'We ain doin nothin,' he told her.
'Hmm,' she said.
Now she sleeps. Just then, 6:15 like they been sayin, he sees the ride, some shitbox Chevy a hundred years old, bend the corner on the street far below. Now, Ordell thinks, now we gone tear some shit up. He has field glasses but he can see well enough. Bug, just folding the flip-phone back into her jacket, approaches the car. Then she retreats a distance, as she's supposed to do. The cell phone in his pocket makes a throaty sound.
"Yo," he answers. "'T's up, cuz?"
"Ten-two," Lovinia says. They use radio code, mix it up, make them Tic-Tacs crazy. "Ten-two." Means trouble. Need help. "You hear?" she adds. That Lovinia. Don't never have no respect.
"Stall out, bitch, I hear. And I don't see no damn 10–2." On the broad avenue, on Grace Street, there is nothing, cars, white folks driving by fast. Not even foot trade. "I ain't seed nothin. You standin still, bitch, and you best be hittin the wall, man."
"Ain to see, not from where you is, and I ain talkin on this punk-ass telephone neither. Ten. Two." She's gone with that.
Setup, he thinks, as he often thinks. Bug — as Lovinia is known — damn Bug be settin him up. Kan-el, T-Roc, one them, maybe them Goobers — as the Saints call the Gangster Outlaws — one them switched her somehow. He ponders Kan-el and T-Roc, Commandant and Vice-Lord of BSD. They on top, man, but they all the time trippin and shit, worryin is Hardcore on this power thang, man, he gone bust his whole set right out the gang or what? And him running eight zones into the jail every week, so BSD down for theirs, catch his black booty he be gone for-ever. Set him up. "Mmm." He grunts aloud at the thought of it.
But he's on his way. He has a 9-millimeter pistol stored behind the iron grating of the air return and he tucks it in his belt and lets his black silk shirt hang out of his trousers. In the elevator he continues rumbling with his angry thoughts, speaking to himself and wondering if he should have shouted out for Honcho, some of them. Scared, he thinks, scared is what he is and old enough to know it. All them youngsters always puttin down that shit, 'Cain't no nigger fade me,' shit like that, make him laugh. You always scared. Get used to it is all. Gotta be is gotta be.
He has three sons. Dormane — Hardball he called — got two kids of his own, he inside, doing fifteen no-parole on some fool buy-bust, and Rakleed is on these streets, too, and the little one, Del, still too young to know too much of nothing. They mommas, each of them, behind Ordell's back, told those boys the same. 'Don't you be no dope peddler now, don't you be slangin and hangin and bangin, I'll be whompin you backside, you ain never gone be too big for me do you like that.' That's what they sayin. In his own time, Ordell gave each of these boys his answer: 'You got to be somebody. They's bad shit here. With them bad coppers — bad motherfuckers everywhere here. But, man,' he said, 'man, this here what you-all's — you with the people here, you giving them what these poor niggers need, some nickel's worth of happiness white folks and all don't want them havin.'
Walking from the IV Tower, the first stirrings of the day, music and voices, from some windows, wondering is he really gone get himself gauged, Hardcore thinks, as he often does, about his sons. He walks past one of the newer buildings, where the concrete corner has parted, revealing a cheap core of pink foam. In a nearby play area, only one seesaw remains, and on that both seats were long ago shattered by some teen in a random outbreak of destructive will. A milky-eyed drunk is teetering down the block, slept it off somewhere and now looking for home. He has a tatty overcoat and his hat askew, a face of white whiskers, and when he sees Hardcore, he wants to move, get out the way, man, and his legs can't let him. Funny. Hardcore calls him "Man" as he passes by. They got they needs, he thinks, wishing he'd told his boys that, too. 'Everybody on these streets, man, these motherfuckers out here is just completely crazy with what they need. This gal she need her check, and this momma be needin to hold her baby, and that old cat need his fix.' Needing. He sometimes thinks he doesn't walk on pavement — he is just moving on top of what everybody needs.
He crosses the boulevard, Grace Street, and starts down Lawrence, a block of ruined three-story apartment buildings, stout as battlements, with flat tarred roofs and limestone blocks placed decoratively amid the dark bricks and as a border above the doorways and at the cornices. The windows are gone in some, boarded up. A raised garden area of railroad ties sits under the windows of 338, the dirt desert dry, even the weeds struggling to survive.
"Yo," Lovinia calls, emerging like a cat from one of her hiding places. This Lovinia, he thinks. God, look-it here at this scrawny bitch, motherfucker are you gone believe it? With this fuzzball stocking cap dragged down over her whole damn head and this grey coat and twill pants. Don't want nobody comin up on her to know she a bitch is what it is, figure they'll shoot her ass or molest her ass or somethin. They better not try neither, she ain't strapped — armed — she know better than that for when Tic-Tac come by, but you bet she got it near here, under the mailbox, or in a hole in one them trees, you mess with her, she gone smoke you ass. Word up. T-Roc, he think Hardcore stone crazy using Bug, but she sharp. She strut up to the cars, she change her whole routine now, she sort of swingin it a lot. 'What you like, man?' Make them say. Anybody she take for Tic-Tac, narco, when they say 'Dope,' she just go, 'Oh, man, I ain sellin dope, man, I got somethin sweeter 'n that, man,' like she thinkin they was here to bone.
Now she points to the white Nova at the curb, a hundred feet away. "I done told her, 'Lady, you in the wrong place.'"
"Lady? What kind of motherfuckin lady?"
"Tol' you now, 10–2. He ain come. She come. She be lookin for Or Dell." Bug smiles then, toward the walk. Lovinia, just a kid and all — fifteen — she love to play.
"Lady," Hardcore repeats a few more times. Damn. He advances on the car. "Lady, this the wrong place for you." Leaning into the darkness of the car, he catches some of her soapy smell and the humid sour scent of his own overheated breath. "You best get out here fast."
"Mr. Trent? I'm June Eddgar." She extends her hand, and then laboriously leaves the car to stand in the bluish morning light. Old. She be fat, too, big and fat. Some kind of hippie or farmer or some such, and her thighs all mashed together in her jeans. She have a plain face and some long lightish brown kinda hair going to grey, kind of lopsided and knit together like it ain't really combed. "I thought we could talk a minute."
"Lady, they ain nothin for you and me to talk about."
"Well, I thought — I'm Nile's mother."
"Told him get hisself here. Didn't tell him send nobody's momma."
"I thought it was better if I came."
"You better go. Thass all. They's some powerful shit may go down here. Word, now. Go on." He steps away, flitting his hand.
"Look, I know them both. I think there's a misunderstanding."
"Only misunderstandin is you stayin here stead of leavin out when I say go. Thass the only misunderstanding we got."
"I really think —"
"Lady, you gone get fucked up bad, you hear? Now jump in you rusty-ass ride." He throws a hand again in disgust and walks away. Lovinia has stepped toward the street, waving.
"Gorgo," she calls, signaling overhead.
"Aw, fuck me, motherfuck," Hardcore says. From the alley across the way, Gorgo has emerged, tearing out on a sturdy black-framed mountain bike. He has a mask on, a blue handkerchief across his face like he some cowboy motherfucker, but looks otherwise like he just goin home to momma, blue pack fixed on his back, red satin jacket, hat turned behind his ear, just a kid, if you don't notice the gat — the gun — held low by his side. A 9. Got his Tec-9. The semiautomatic weapon, from its sheer weight, seems to drag behind as Gorgo rides. Bug keeps on waving, calling out as Gorgo rushes on, but he doesn't see her. He never will, Hardcore knows. You can see Gorgo's eyes at sixty feet now, popped out like some pipehead's, only with him all it is is panic. I gotta do this, Gorgo's thinking, got to do this, man. Hardcore knows. His whole self is shrunken down to a little pea of violent will, so there's no room for anything to tell him no. The gun is up, straight this way, and for one second Ordell sees nothing of it but the small silver o and the frightening black space within it, at the end of the muzzle.
"Gorgo!" she calls again, and Hardcore, who has already dropped to the pavement, catches the hem of her coat and drags at it.
Excerpted from The Laws of Our Fathers by Scott Turow. Copyright © 1996 Scott Turow. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Scott Turow is the author of ten bestselling works of fiction, including Identical, Innocent, Presumed Innocent, and The Burden of Proof, and two nonfiction books, including One L, about his experience as a law student. His books have been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than thirty million copies worldwide, and have been adapted into movies and television projects. He has frequently contributed essays and op-ed pieces to publications such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic.
- Chicago, Illinois
- Date of Birth:
- April 12, 1949
- Place of Birth:
- Chicago, Illinois
- B.A. in English, Amherst College, 1970; M.A., Stanford University, 1974; J.D., Harvard University, 1978
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I am about 2/3 through this book and have been struggling to stay with it. Story is told through back and forth enumeration by the main characters, Sonny and Seth. They take us back through their rebellious drug drenched lives during the Vietnam era. The story moves slowly as they recall for us the most minute detail of drug induced thoughts and conversations. The trial is a small secondary storyline and presented with jargon difficult to understand. None of the characters are enduring or even very likable, some not at all. I am anxious to be through with it.
Scott Turow seems to have lost the magic of his earlier books. While Presumed Innocent was a taut legal thriller that keeps you guessing and Burden of Proof was a slower yet fascinating character study, Turow seems to have stumbled with his next two efforts. Pleading Guilty failed to draw the reader into its tale of sports corruption, and The Laws of Our Fathers continues the downward spiral. A politician's wife has been shot and killed in the ghetto, and the clues point to either her son or her ex-husband, depending on whose version of events you believe. The burnout-hippie judge overseeing the trial, who went to college with the victim and her ex-husband, is afraid her selection was the result of corrupt, behind-the-scenes political maneuvering. The events reunite the judge with her college sweetheart, a nationally syndicated columnist who is covering the trial. The narrative switches back and forth from the judge's sixties college days in a Northern California Berkeley-like town to the present day. It doesn't sound so bad, but the characters are so self-involved and whiny that I was really put off, especially since the plot is so character-driven, like most Turow books. Also, Turow probably could have trimmed the prose here and there to keep the plot moving. The ending was unsatisfying as well. There are better legal thrillers and better mysteries out there, so don't waste your time with this one.
This book is truly a great book from the author/attorney from chicago. His books are so well develpoed that I cannot put them down. 'Undownputable' is what I call them. Great storytelling at its best. he uses so much detail that it doesnt hurt the story at all. I like everything he wrote. I always wonder how much is fiction and how much is fact. His writing is so complex, that I like reading every word and every chapter a week! Never start a book by this guy at night, You will lose valuable time for sleeping. A remarable storyteller. A first rate book. Laws is a magnificent book to read.
A modern day murder-mystery in the ghetto with roots in sixties activism. It sounds compelling but don't be deceived. This book reads like a pet project of the author -- one of those pet projects that is based on personal experiences and friends of the author. It certainly isn't very exciting to read. Unlike his first two novels, Turow never manages to introduce any compelling characters. I frankly never cared how the love story turned out since both participants were whiny self-indulgent idiots, and I cared even less about whodunnit. It bears mentioning that Turow should avoid ethnic dialects; the African-American characters were so stereotypical as to be offensive. The book was also over-written, and Turow should have gotten to the point a little quicker. Read The Burden of Proof instead.
Before beginning, let me note that I am reviewing both the hard cover novel and the abridged audio cassette version. I rate the book as a five star item, and the audio cassette as a four star item. Scott Turow writes the best legal novels that I have ever read. I have been a fan of his since he wrote One L about the first year experience at Harvard Law School. In The Laws of Our Fathers, he uses courtroom drama as a plot device to explore the nature of morality, truth, and human relationships. In every sense though, this is a profoundly philosophical novel parallel to Crime and Punishment in many ways. By constantly surprising the characters and the reader with hidden currents in a multigenerational story, Turow helps us to understand the weaknesses of human-directed attempts to create justice and make peace. You are left realizing that God's laws may be far more useful for every situation than our own. The story opens with a violent crime going awry (different from planned). The plot then develops around the murder trial of a probation officer, Nile Eddgar, whose mother has been killed. Can anyone other than Turow imagine a plot that makes sense that would be so constructed? All of the parties in the case have ties to one another that go back into other times and other places, and these stories are told in flashback to provide perspective on the meaning of the events that have taken place. The description of the defense in this novel is masterful, and will be admired by anyone who has ever tried a criminal case. Even if you are not a lawyer, you will admire the grace of how the truth is subjectively exposed to put the best face on the defendant's situation. Very beautifully done! The writing is the great strength of this book. Unfortunately, by abridging the novel in the audio cassette some of the remarkable development is lost. On the other hand, Blair Brown is superb as the voice of Judge Sonny Klonsky and those who appear in her courtroom. Her performance adds a lot of depth to that character. After you have finished enjoying this novel, I suggest that you think about something that you thought you knew well when you were much younger. How have your views changed since then? Are both views true? What made them change? Is truth time dependent, experience dependent, or dependent on what? In particularly, think about some area where you once were at odds with your parents and are now in harmony with them. Which of their 'laws' do you observe now? Which do you think you may come to observe in the future? What disbelief is holding you back from embracing their views? What views have you not considered yet? Enjoy and appreciate the fragile beauty of the slowly revealed truth around us! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution
If you pick this book up at midnight, it will have you reading until dawn. This is a story about a young man who visits the city of Savannah on a vacation, and ends up establishing a somewhat permanent residence in this beautiful yet strange jewel of the southern states. Fascinated with both the history and the inhabitants of Savannah, the writer finds that the people of Savannah are equally interested in him, as evidenced by the way they admit him into the inner circles of their confindences. During his time in Savannah, a murder is commited and of course, he is right in the middle of the action. The things he hears, observes, and is called upon to witness turn this otherwise amusing story into a comody/horror/thriller of epic proportions. Never has such a group of eccentric charactors been gathered together under the cover of one book. Especially intresting is the social commentary about the historical symbiotic relationship that exists between the African-Americans and the Whites in this city. Readers of any race will be fascinated by the interaction between these two groups, and all the ways that things have/have not changed over the course of many years. I found this book to be highly entertaining, well written, witty, sad, and loads and loads of fun. I found myself racing to finish it, only to grow remorseful and try to slow down and stretch it out towards the end. To me, this is the sign of a truly superior work of fiction.