Authors: Scott Turow

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Presumed Innocent, 1987

The Burden of Proof, 1990

Pleading Guilty, 1993

The Laws of Our Fathers, 1996

Personal Injuries, 1999

Reversible Errors, 2002


One L, 1977

Edited Text:

Guilty as Charged: The Penguin Book of New American Crime Writing, 1996


Scott Turow (tuh-ROH) is a successful Chicago attorney who has written best-selling fictional and nonfictional portrayals of the lives of lawyers and law students which both entertain and grapple with important moral and ethical issues confronting the legal system. Turow received his bachelor’s degree from Amherst College in 1970 and his M.A. in 1974 from Stanford University.{$I[AN]9810001651}{$I[A]Turow, Scott}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Turow, Scott}{$I[tim]1949;Turow, Scott}

Scott Turow

When he entered Harvard University Law School in the fall of 1975, he wrote down his reflections and experiences on the pressures and stresses to which he and his fellow students were subjected at this highly competitive and prestigious law school. His book analyzing these experiences was published in 1977 as One L and was immediately popular with both current and prospective law students, as well as with lawyers and the public. In many ways Harvard Law School has long served as a model for legal education in the United States, and the portrayal of the experience there from a student perspective helped encourage much critical examination. While this first book was nonfiction, it was told as a story and was highly entertaining–a precursor to the author’s later success as a popular novelist.

Following Turow’s graduation from Harvard Law School in 1978, he returned to Chicago, where he was admitted to the Illinois Bar and worked as a criminal prosecutor, serving as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1978 to 1986. Turow’s tenure at the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago had included the time frame in which a widely publicized federal government “sting” operation entitled Operation Greylord had resulted in the indictment and successful prosecution of many local judges for taking bribes, fixing cases, and other corrupt acts. It was during his term in that job that he began in his spare time (including on the train during his commute downtown to his job) to write on yellow legal pads, recording a gritty, realistic portrayal of the workings of a county prosecutor’s office. The resulting legal thriller, Presumed Innocent, was published in 1987 and became a best-seller. It is told in the first person by a male prosecutor who is ultimately charged with, prosecuted for, and then acquitted of the murder of a female colleague with whom he previously had an extramarital affair. In addition to the portrayal of the courtroom drama, the novel focuses on issues such as how local politics and individual ambition may influence the operation of the criminal justice system, as well as issues of prosecutorial and judicial corruption. The novel was later the basis for a popular film starring Harrison Ford in the protagonist’s role.

From the U.S. attorney’s office Turow moved to a position as a private attorney at a large Chicago firm, Sonnenschein, Carlin, Nath, and Rosenthal, becoming a partner there in 1986. He subsequently published The Burden of Proof in 1990, a novel in which the first-person narrator and protagonist is a private criminal defense lawyer (the same attorney who defended the accused prosecutor in Presumed Innocent) who is confronted with the initially inexplicable suicide of his wife. Conflicting duties and loyalties of this lawyer then arise out of the local U.S. attorney’s investigation into the financial affairs of a major client of his who is also his brother-in-law. This novel was later made into a television miniseries. Turow’s third novel, Pleading Guilty, focuses on a large private law firm’s internal investigation of the suspected embezzlement of lawsuit settlement funds by one of its partners. The novel weaves a complex tale involving the past career of the narrator (the lawyer assigned by the firm to investigate the missing funds) as a police officer who exposed his own partner’s corruption, the hidden personal life of the suspected embezzler (who engaged in a homosexual love affair with a sports referee and then became involved in a gambling scheme involving the games at which his lover was officiating), and the involvement of an officer of the law firm’s largest client in an offshore banking attempt to hide the stolen funds.

The Laws of Our Fathers revisits the character Sonia Klonsky from The Burden of Proof; now a Superior Court judge, she is presiding over the murder trial of a young black man accused of arranging the death of his mother, a ghetto activist. Personal Injuries entails an elaborate FBI sting operation that uses a corrupt lawyer who has been bribing judges to entrap an even more corrupt judge who is believed to be next in line to become chief justice of Kindle County. Reversible Errors contrasts the reactions of two couples when the innocence of a convicted murderer comes to light: one pair are former lovers, the prosecuting attorney and police officer who conspired to convict the man, the other are his court-appointed defense attorney and the now-disgraced judge who heard the case.

Turow’s first six novels take place in a fictional Kindle County in Illinois–which is smaller than Cook County, Illinois, but still a large metropolis. Because some characters, geographic locales, and background reappear, readers of Turow’s novels have the feeling of returning to familiar terrain. Taken together, the novels present a full-bodied and complex portrayal of life in the urban legal community. The popularity of the books among the general public, but even more so among the legal community, is due in no small measure to their portrayals of lawyers as multifaceted, real persons with complex personal lives and dilemmas that are not always amenable to easy solution.

BibliographyAhley, Mark. Modern Crime Fiction: The Authors, Their Works, and Their Most Famous Creations. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2002. Contains a short essay on legal thrillers and courtroom dramas. Describes Turow as a major practitioner of the genre.Bennett, Julie K. “The Trials of a Novelist.” North Shore 10, no. 9 (September, 1987). Examines Turow’s life and work.D’Amato, Barbara. “Chicago as a Mystery Setting.” In The Fine Art of Murder: The Mystery Reader’s Indispensable Companion, edited by Ed Gorman, Martin H. Greenberg, Larry Segriff, and Jon L. Breen. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1993. Discusses Chicago as a city with high winds, a corrupt image, and social conditions providing motives for murder. Sheds light on Turow’s writings.Diggs, Terry K. “Through a Glass Darkly.” American Bar Association Journal 82 (October, 1996). Compares the realities of the legal life with its representation in the novels of Turow and John Grisham.Doyle, James M. “‘It’s the Third World down There!’ The Colonialist Vocation and American Criminal Justice.” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 27 (Winter, 1992). The work of Turow is compared with earlier portrayals of criminal justice in the works of Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad.Gray, Paul. “Burden of Success: As a High-Powered Lawyer and Novelist, Scott Turow Has Become the Bard of the Litigious Age.” Time, June 11, 1990. Discusses aspects of Turow’s legal fiction.Lundy, Derek. Scott Turow: Meeting the Enemy. Toronto: ECW Press, 1995. An admiring examination of Turow’s background and his work. Discusses Turow’s personal views on life, authorship, fame, and the law, and provides analyses of Turow’s early short stories and first three novels.Macdonald, Andrew F., and Gina Macdonald. Scott Turow: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2005. A well-researched chronicle of Turow’s progress from struggling writer to widely read and respected author of legal thrillers. Provides plot analysis and character descriptions for Turow’s books through Reversible Errors. Includes a bibliography of his works and books and articles written about him.Murphy, Stephen M. Their Word Is Law: Bestselling Lawyer-Novelists Talk About Their Craft. New York: Berkley Books, 2002. Includes an interview with Turow that provides firsthand information about his development as a writer, his experiences in the practice of law, and the relationship between his legal and authorial practices.Watson, Jay. “Making Do in the Courtroom: Notes on Some Convergences Between Forensic Practice and Bricolage.” Studies in Law, Politics, and Society Annual 14 (1994). The judicial process portrayed in Presumed Innocent is compared to real life.
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