Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Four classic fictional trials that subverted the truth

Bonnie Kistler is a former trial lawyer. She spent her career in private practice with major law firms and successfully tried cases in federal and state courts across the country, as well as teaching writing skills to other lawyers and lecturing frequently to professional organizations and industry groups. Her new novel is House on Fire.

One of four classic fictional trials that subverted the truth she tagged at CrimeReads:
Presumed Innocent, by Scott Turow

If Anatomy of a Murder created a whole new genre of fiction, then Presumed Innocent deserves credit for elevating that genre to a literary level. A dazzling blend of whodunit with whoishe, it’s not only a murder mystery but a deep dive into the psyche of the narrator Rusty Sabich. Like Justice Voelker, Turow was both a prosecutor and a defense attorney, and he brings acute authenticity to both the gritty politics of the story and all the legal chicanery on display.

Rusty Sabich is a husband, a father, and chief deputy prosecutor in Kindle County (Turow’s fictional stand-in for Chicago). He’s assigned to investigate the murder of lawyer Carolyn Polhemus, a victim of what appears to be a sexual bondage game turned ugly. Carolyn was not only Rusty’s colleague, she was briefly his lover, a conflict of interest he does not disclose. As he digs into the case, all the evidence seems startlingly to point back to Rusty himself. He’s been set up.

He’s indicted and goes on trial, prosecuted by his political enemies and defended by the brilliant Sandy Stern, a veteran lawyer who blows storm clouds of smoke to suggest that Rusty has been framed by the prosecution. The strategy succeeds, and the case is dismissed.

The murder of Carolyn Polhemus remains unsolved—publicly, at least. At home, Rusty discovers the murder weapon in the basement and learns that his own wife, deranged with jealousy over Rusty’s affair, killed Carolyn and framed Rusty for it. And in perhaps the most shocking twist of all, he decides not only to conceal her crime but also to stay in their marriage.

The trial at the heart of Presumed Innocent serves justice insofar as it exonerates Rusty. But it fails spectacularly at divining the actual truth of what occurred.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Presumed Innocent is among five books that changed Reece Hirsch's life, Fiona Barton's ten favorite books centering on marriages that hold dark secrets and Alafair Burke's favorite "Lawyers are People Too" books. Sandy Stern in Presumed Innocent is one of Simon Lelic's top ten lawyers in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue