It’s been more than 35 years since local author Scott Turow released Presumed Innocent, a genre-defining novel that lingered 44 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and showed the world what a smart courtroom thriller could look like. It was a stay-up-past-your-bedtime book, its twisty plot parsed endlessly by masses of bleary-eyed readers as they converged around office water coolers to exchange theories.
Turow’s newest title, Suspect, scheduled for release Tuesday, Sept. 27, follows on the heels of a dozen more best-selling page-turners and provides clear evidence that Turow hasn’t lost the knack for keeping his audience up too late.
Until two years ago the writer, who lives in Evanston with wife Adriane Glazier, was also a practicing attorney. After graduating from Harvard Law School with honors in 1978, he served for many years as an assistant U.S. attorney and later as a criminal-defense lawyer.
Suspect, like all of his novels, is replete with real-world settings and situations only an insider could deliver. Although he has retired from the law, Turow isn’t worried that the well will run dry. “By now,” he said, “I have a lifetime of stories.”
Suspect focuses on the trending topic of sexual coercion in the workplace, but Turow flips the script by placing Lucia Gomez, a female police chief, in the driver’s seat. Three male police officers are her accusers as the riveting story unfolds.
“I’ve represented police officers. I’ve prosecuted police officers. For an outsider, I know a lot about how the police work,” he said. Turow uses that knowledge to dial up the suspense as a string of colorful witnesses testify during the disciplinary hearing.
The story is told in first person through the eyes of Pinky Granum, a plucky young private investigator working on behalf of the chief’s lawyer. There is a hint of Holden Caulfield in the tattooed and pierced Pinky, who combines wry innocence with rebellious angst.
She remains fiercely devoted to her elderly grandfather, the brilliant lawyer Sandy Stern, a recurring character Turow fans will be glad to welcome back. From the comfort of his lavishly upscale senior living center, Stern assumes the position of Yoda-like advisor to Pinky.
Turow, 73, has written from a female perspective in the past, and he said finding the voice of a woman for this book wasn’t his biggest challenge: “To tell you the truth, what was more daunting to me in Suspect was not gender, but age.”
To keep his 30-something character authentic, Turow said he often sought outside counsel. “I had a lot of advance readers who were Pinky’s age and occasionally there were word choices or whole concepts that struck them as tin-eared, but generally speaking, I thought I knew who this woman was from the moment I started writing about her.”
Pinky played a much lesser role when she was introduced in Turow’s previous novel, but she started “demanding more space on the page” so the author chose to give her free rein in Suspect. “She was,” said Turow, “what I refer to as the character who runs away with the book. As much as that sounds difficult, it is enlivening.”
Pinky is a strong protagonist and a skilled investigator, but the story’s villains keep her on her toes with their scheming, much of it inspired by the activities of Turow’s past clients.
Ritz, a criminal mastermind central to Suspect, provides an example. “Here’s a drug dealer who has figured out a way to keep his hand off the drugs in general because he just charges a tax to the drug operations that rent in his buildings,” said the author. “I didn’t just make that up.”
Turow admits that during all the years he spent prosecuting and defending criminals, their actions never ceased to amaze him. “Very often, especially as a defense lawyer, I’d sit in my office and look across my desk at the client and think, ‘How the hell did he even think of this?’”
As a fiction writer, Turow has been able to mine those twisted ideas and spin them into gold. “Criminality as a whole is dramatically underrated as a form for expression of the human imagination,” he said. “At some level it’s almost like art.”
He and his wife ‘really love it here in Evanston’
Turow will continue to provide a canvas for that art and shows no signs of slowing down. As he prepares for the Suspect book tour, his next novel is already well underway, though he declined to share specifics. Other projects are in the works: An eight-episode adaptation of Presumed Innocent will start filming soon for Apple TV+ and Suspect has already been optioned to writer and producer David E. Kelley.
When Turow stops to recharge, he enjoys all Evanston has to offer, including riding his bike along the lakefront. Some of his pleasures are even simpler, he said, like passing the corner tot lot and admiring the diversity of the families at play.
“It is a feature of life in Evanston that you can’t tell just by looking which kid belongs with which parent,” he said, adding that he and Glazier “both find that very pleasing.”
Turow concedes that they probably don’t spend more than 100 days a year in Evanston but says it is the city that feels most like home. “This is a place where the atmosphere and the values are the closest to our own,” he said. “We both really love it here in Evanston.”