Magazine article The Spectator

Campus and Courtroom

Magazine article The Spectator

Campus and Courtroom

Article excerpt

Scott Turow's new legal thriller (he made his name with Presumed Innocent), despite its inordinate length, is for the most part engrossing.

On 7 September 1995 in a criminal district called Kindle County housing project, June Eddgar, the ex-wife of state senator Loyell Eddgar, is gunned down. The police arrest a local bank gangster called Hardcore who fingers his probation officer, the couple's son, Nile. Hardcore claims Nile paid him $10,000 to kill his father, the senator, but it went wrong when Mrs Eddgar turned up instead at the appointed meeting. He is able to hand the prosecution the actual money with Nile's fingerprints on it.

It is here that the story becomes unconvincing. Twenty-five years earlier, in 1970, when America was in the throes of student rebellion against the Vietnam draft and the Black Panther movement was turning violent, Sonny Klonsky, the judge presiding over the Eddgar case, was doing her Ph.D. in Modern Critical Thought at a Californian university while living with her boyfriend, Seth. Seth, marking time while waiting for the draft, which he intended to flee, regularly baby-sat for the couple living above them - radical campus extremists Loyell and June Eddgar and their small son Nile, an unhappy, bewildered boy. Seth gradually became a passive witness to the byzantine intrigues of Loyell and June. These included provocative action to incite rioting, bomb outrages and murder.

When Sonny realises that she knows not only Nile but also his father, his dead mother and the black defence attorney, Hobbie Tuttle, Seth's best friend from childhood, she questions her suitability to preside over the case, only to be reassured that everyone has complete faith in her impartiality. …

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