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Book News

Review: Latest from Turow is masterfully written

'Personal Injuries'
by Scott Turow

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27

Review by L.D. Meagher

October 18, 1999
Web posted at: 4:43 p.m. EDT (2043 GMT)

(CNN) -- Personal injury lawyers are easy targets. After all, they thrive on the suffering of other people. The popular perception is that they will bend any truth, skirt any law, circumvent any principle of ethics to make a buck. The successful ones seem to flaunt their prosperity with flashy cars, flashy clothes, flashy lifestyles.

Robbie Feaver seems to be the walking stereotype of the big money personal injury attorney, right down to his name. It's pronounced "favor" and he certainly seems to live the life of the favored few. He is arrogant, vain, duplicitous and an adulterer. In short, he's not a very likeable fellow.


It says a lot about the talents of Scott Turow that he can center his new novel on a character as intrinsically unsympathetic as Robbie Feaver, and have the reader rooting for the guy by the end of the story. Turow takes us into the often-seamy world of civil litigation in "Personal Injuries." In the process, he more fully illuminates the landscape that has provided the setting for his novels.

The fictional Kindle County is a northern industrial metropolis. Beginning with "Presumed Innocent" more than a decade ago, Turow has been expanding our understanding of the human currents that flow along the banks of the Kindle River. In "Personal Injuries," Kindle County becomes as sharply realized as the characters who populate it.

The story -- about a federal sting aimed at rooting out corruption in the Kindle County court system -- grows organically out of its setting. In his earlier books, Turow depicted Kindle County as an amalgam of rust belt urban areas. There were hints of Chicago and Detroit, a dash of Philadelphia or Cleveland, maybe a sprinkling of New York. In "Personal Injuries," Kindle County emerges as its own unique entity.

"The Kindle County Superior Court Law and Equity Department, the civil courthouse, was built in the 1950's," he writes, "and its architecture reflects that confused American era when, appropriately, all buildings were square …The building has always been known as 'the Temple,' a term so timeworn that it has lost the ironic inflections with which it was spoken during the structure's first years."

U.S. Attorney Stan Sennett is intent on storming "the Temple." Irregularities in Feaver's finances give Sennett the leverage he needs to force the attorney's cooperation in the federal sting. The plot gives Turow ample opportunity to develop an intriguing cast of characters -- from the judges implicated in the corruption probe to their minions with vague mob connections to the members of the Kindle County bar who navigate the entrenched system of payoffs and personal favors. There's also a female FBI agent who goes undercover in Feaver's law office, where she is immediately assumed to be his latest romantic conquest. In many ways, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Turow seamlessly weaves characterization into the plot, making "Personal Injuries" a page-turner on several levels. The reader is nimbly sucked into the world of Robbie Feaver, enticed by the opportunity to witness a federal sting operation as it unfolds. But as the story progresses, we are at least as interested in the lives of the characters as we are in the final outcome of the prosecutor's machinations.

No two chronicles of Kindle County are alike. Turow masterfully mixes his pitches, from the relatively straightforward storytelling of "Presumed Innocent" to the intertwined storylines of "The Laws of Our Fathers." He uses yet another technique in "Personal Injuries," with equal success. His versatility lifts Scott Turow far above the crowd of lawyers publishing novels.

L.D. Meagher is a senior writer at CNN Headline News. He has worked in broadcasting for 30 years.

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