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Reversible Errors By Scott Turow

Love and death, Turow-style Legal ace tackles trials of love and death

Sunday, November 10, 2002

By Bob Hoover, Post-Gazette Book Editor

When a novel opens with a diagram of the characters' relationships, the reader might be inclined to pause before beginning.

How complicated is this going to get?

In the hands of Scott Turow, it turns out to be all very simple. The result is perhaps the most intimate and adult -- by that I mean mature -- novel you're going to read this year.

Turow's sixth work of fiction is his most affecting. Its story of four lovers clinging to their troubled passions in the heat of a legal battle over the death penalty is both timeless and contemporary.


Reversible Errors

By Scott Turow

Farrar, Straus & Giroux ($28)


Illinois, where Turow practices law at one of Chicago's leading firms, has suspended executions after evidence exonerated some death-row inmates. After that decision, he became involved in efforts to review the state's capital punishment system.

The man, therefore, knows the territory firsthand and, as a novelist, instinctively understands how that elemental life-and-death theme can disrupt lives.

His couples are Arthur and Gillian, brilliant but deeply flawed representatives for the defense, and Larry and Muriel, wrestling with their own demons, for the prosecution.

At the center of Turow's diagram is Rommy "Squirrel" Gandolph, who, as the date for his execution for a triple homicide nears, recants his confession.

The state names Arthur, partner in a thriving firm, to represent Gandolph's appeal pro bono. The case appears hopeless, thanks largely to his client's numerous confessions.

But Rommy came by his nickname honestly.

His brain appears stuck at age 10, and his worst previous crimes were petty theft.

His best stroke of luck was drawing Arthur, a man of abiding honesty and a deep sense of responsibility.

"The planet was full of creatures in need who could not really fend, and the law was at its best when it ensured that they were treated with dignity," Arthur believed.

"He needed that all of his life -- love and purpose. He did not know, now that he'd finally embraced that, if he would ever be able to let go."

The love Arthur's embraced is for Gillian Sullivan, a former county judge whose drug habit drove her to taking payoffs. She presided at Gandolph's trial before she was sent to prison.

After serving her time, she's back in Kindle County, the mythical setting of all of Turow's novels, a place not that much different from Chicago.

She and Arthur become reacquainted when he questions her about the case, and they become lovers.

Larry is the cop who squeezed the confession from Rommy, and Muriel is the prosecutor who sent him to death row. These two, who have not let their spouses get in the way of their lust for each other, have the most to lose if Arthur wins his case.

Part of that loss, it seems, could be each other.

Did I say simple? Well, no serious relationship is, of course, but the human need for such a pairing is a basic one.

"Like food and health and shelter, everyone ... was entitled to that," is what Arthur believes, and that belief is at the core of this book.

Its author knows that life is not easy, that commitment, while basic, is a long, thorny road whose travelers are not white knights or virginal princesses, just human beings.

We also are entitled to life, particularly if we're innocent. While Turow's novel is not a case for abolishing the death penalty, it does call into serious question the way that the troublesome sentence is meted out in America.

It's one thing for Turow to have the talent to construct a complex, compelling plot with the twists and turns of successful suspense fiction. "Reversible Errors" can stand on its own as a smart, believable courtroom thriller.

It's another for him to bring a literary novelist's sense of how the heart works and what it wants.

The combination is breathtaking.

Bob Hoover can be reached at bhoover@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1634.

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