Imperfect Justice

A meticulously-plotted, skilfully-woven tapestry of moral and emotional intrigue.

It is the considered opinion of many people (myself included) that Scott Turow set the standard for legal fiction with his brilliant first novel, "Presumed Innocent", and has done more to evolve the genre over the past twelve years than all the Grishams and Martinis combined. Each Turow novel is a meticulously-plotted, skilfully-woven tapestry of moral and emotional intrigue, packed with interesting characters, hidden motives, cunning plot twists and clever narrative devices - all of which make a more-than-welcome reappearance in "Personal Injuries".

The star of "Personal Injuries" is Robbie Feaver, a personal injury lawyer who has amassed a fortune by winning personal injury lawsuits in the Kindle County courthouse. But Feaver has a nasty little secret - he's been buying many of the judges he appears before with cash presents, in return for favourable judgments. And when U.S. Attorney Stan Sennett finds out about Feaver, he immediately sees an opportunity - to use Feaver as bait in a sting operation aimed at the Presiding Judge of the Common Law Claims Division, Brendan Tuohey, the man behind all the corruption in the Kindle County courthouse.

And so we come to Feaver - a compulsive womanizer, a skilled manipulator, a man who is willing to lie and cheat to gain an advantage, yet one who has his own strange notions of honour and commitment. With a wife slowly wasting away with ALS, Feaver is caught between a rock and a hard place: either he complies with Sennett's demands, does everything he can to entrap Tuohey, and walks away with immunity, or he gets thrown in jail, with no hope of getting out before his wife dies.

Feaver agrees to the deal, and a complex sting operation is set up, complete with fake lawyers, false lawsuits, and secret recordings. An undercover agent, Evon Miller, is assigned to keep tabs on Feaver through the days and months of the operation, and it is through their conversations, and through the narrative of Feaver's lawyer, George Mason, that Turow paints a picture of the real Robbie Feaver.

It is a compulsive portrayal - a man who is chameleon-like in his emotions, with private pains and public faces at odds with each other - but it is no less compulsive that Turow's portrayal of the other main characters in this drama: Stan Sennett, the brilliant and arrogant U. S. Attorney; Evon Miller, the deep-cover agent who finds herself alternately attracted and repelled by the man she's protecting; Brendan Tuohey, the corrupt judge who sees enemies everywhere; and George Mason, the lawyer charged with protecting feaver's interests. With a cocktail as potent as this, anything can - and frequently does - happen.

But Turow's brilliance lies not only in creating characters we care about, characters who seem as real as the people around you, but in giving each of them a sense of weight, a sense of place, of family, and of buried connections to the past and to each other. Drawing on his immense narrative power, Turow places each character in context, and makes us feel both their emotions and their confusion. As you progress through "Personal Injuries", you realize that this is not merely a legal drama - it is, at different moments, a love story, a brilliant and scathing character study, an expose of hypocrisy and imperfect justice, and a complex tale of morality, ambition and honour.

There are very few authors who would dare to attempt such a novel - but Turow does, and he does it in style. Don't even think about missing this one.

This article was first published on 03 Jan 2001.