The Last Trial by Scott Turow
Reviewed by Jules Mermelstein, Esq., author of Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue
Scott Turow, as fans of legal thrillers know, became the father of the modern legal thriller with the publication of Presumed Innocent in 1987. The premise of The Last Trial is that this will be the last trial for the defense attorney, Sandy Stern, introduced in Presumed Innocent.
Some readers might need some time to adjust at the beginning of this novel. Mr. Turow begins with a scene close to the end of the trial, then jumps back to the opening statement by the defense, and then refers back to the opening statement by the prosecution. For those who need that time, it will be time well-rewarded.
Although the plot revolves around the murder, fraud, and insider trading trial of a Nobel Prize winning doctor, what is most memorable in the book are the characters who readers get to know so well. More about them near the end of this review.
As Sandy Stern discovers more and more information, the reader’s imagination takes guesses as to who did what, as does Stern himself. In fact, readers do not find out what, if anything, the doctor is guilty of until well past the verdict. Although Stern makes a point in the trial about sometimes needing to accept that we will never know everything, readers need not worry. All questions remaining are answered before the novel ends.
Trial lawyers may be tempted to crib some of Stern’s closing argument. Indeed, it contains more praise for the jury system than this reviewer has seen elsewhere. In addition to that, there are many observations throughout the book readers might want to remember to use at appropriate times.
When musing about trying cases: “Winning is like sex -- the spirit inevitably craves the next occasion.”
Discussing guilty criminal defendants: “In the end, all guilty clients have one thing in common: At the moment of completing the crime, each was convinced against all reason they would not get caught.”
When discussing the government of the United States, keeping in mind this book was published this year: “Democracy and the rule of law are much more fragile than most Americans realize.”
On the philosophical basis of both law and economics: “The law is erected on many fictions and perhaps the falsest one of all is that humans, in the end, are rational. Without doubt, our life -- so far as we can tell -- is one of cause and effect. That is what science depends on. But our most intimate decisions are rarely based on the kinds of calculations of pluses and minuses Jeremy Bentham, or the free-market economists for that matter, have wanted to believe in. We are fundamentally emotional creatures. In the most consequential matters, we answer faithfully to the heart’s cry, not the law’s.”
Obviously there is much that cannot be divulged about the trial without giving away plot points. However, the beginning of the cross-examination of the pathologist is so brilliant, and does not give away plot points, that it has to be shared here:
“Now you are not trained as an allergist, Dr. Rogers, are you?”
“Well, if any of the next questions are beyond your competence, Dr. Rogers, please say so.”
The cast of characters Mr. Turow allows us to know so well, include Stern’s daughter, who he is partners with, Stern’s quirky but sharp granddaughter, the dedicated US Attorney, the Assistant US Attorney who always thinks he’s the smartest person in the room, a smart and fair judge, a reporter struggling to keep sources secret, a federal bureaucrat, the many women in the defendant’s life, and descriptions of Stern’s two wives who both left him a widower.
If you enjoy legal thrillers, you will love this latest book by the master, Scott Turow.