On the shelf
By Scott Turow
Grand Central: 448 pages, $29
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Nothing is immune to the ravages of time, not even the fictional universes created by crime writers. But what does an author do when a series protagonist reaches a certain age? Some defy the rules: Over 25 novels in Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series written over as many years, Kinsey Millhone ages by less than a decade. Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, on the other hand, is now a seventy-year-old battling both crime and a life-threatening illness.
Among the many characters who inhabit Scott Turow’s fictional Kindle County, Illinois, he considers Alejandro “Sandy” Stern to be his first citizen. The lawyer was in his early 50s in 1987 when he defended Deputy Chief Prosecutor Rusty Sabich in Turow’s blockbuster debut “Presumed Innocent”. The author has since returned to the star regularly, most recently in 2021’s The Last Trial, in which he chronicles the esteemed lawyer’s final case before closing the law firm he founded with a daughter. At 85, a cancer survivor with multiple comorbidities, it was time for Sandy to step down from the lead role and leave readers wondering how the Kindle County universe and its characters would evolve in the new millennium.
You probably wouldn’t have bet on Clarice “Pinky” Granum, Stern’s pink-haired, day-glo tattooed, nose-nailed granddaughter. In The Last Trial, Pinky was a whimsical paralegal and police academy runaway after failing her drug test near graduation. Two years later, now 33, she’s transformed into a private detective — so to speak — courtesy of a training course offered by Sandy’s law firm, working for attorney Rik Dudek. With her unconventional background and connection to the venerable star, Pinky is both the outsider and the most likely narrator for a 21st-century reboot of Turow’s legal thriller universe, his 12th novel, Suspect.
Though Turow wasn’t the first lawyer to write a legal thriller, or the most prolific—Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason Mysteries are about 80—he has produced a body of work unparalleled in the breadth of his examination of the law and human relationships . As he framed the case at the center of “Suspect” — a sexual extortion charge against a female police chief in the gritty town of Highland Isle, a few thousand yards across a river in Kindle County — and by making prickly, bisexual Pinky the narrator, has his Characters and locations brought to the era of #MeToo and DEI initiatives; He also took on a particularly steep challenge.
Twelve years ago, Kindle County detective and Desert Storm veteran Lucia Gomez-Barrera was promoted to the top police post on the Highland Isle by a reform-minded mayor. Now three officers have accused her of demanding sex in exchange for promotions. Faced with possible termination, she approaches Dudek, an old school friend, to represent him at the Police and Fire Commission disciplinary hearing. Dudek, who Pinky says is “shaped like a fall pumpkin,” is a distant relative of Sandy’s through her second marriage. But unlike Pinky’s beloved grandfather, who represented “all the richest crooks in the Tri-Cities,” Dudek takes on tort and personal injury cases to keep the light going. Pinky thinks Chief Gomez’s high-profile case “could help him finally get up.”
As she prepares for her first face-to-face meeting with her biggest client, Pinky becomes more concerned about her neighbor, The Weird One. TWO, as she calls the attractive, middle-aged Asian-American man, moved into the apartment next door to her a month earlier. ZWEI has no friends, no visible employment, and he works odd hours. Dudek initially teases his investigator about her paranoia: “Pinky, your imagination must be one of the most interesting places in the world. It’s like living in 4-D. All these things that could never happen and you run it as a feature attraction.”
With the help of Pinky’s PIBOT, a “private investigator’s box of tricks” she picked up from her studies and YouTube videos, the case becomes increasingly complex as “Suspect” switches back and forth between the disciplinary hearing against the initially particularly weak Chief Gomez , and Pinky’s persistent quasi-stalking of her neighbor, opening up opportunities for foreign espionage against a major defense contractor, and more. Both cases are enlivened by Pinky’s razor-sharp millennial observations and complicated love life. That includes Tonya Eo, a former girlfriend who’s now “all glo’d up” and a rising star in HIPD, and — well, it would be criminal to reveal Pinky’s other romantic interests, which only thickens the plot, as well a murder halfway through, creating a much-needed, if hard-to-swallow, connection between the two seemingly irreconcilable storylines.
Needless to say, Pinky isn’t a Sandy Stern—nor should she be. Turow finds roles in “Suspect” for some of Stern’s former cohorts to bridge the gap, and Pinky still uses her grandfather’s wisdom, along with his old Cadillac CTS, and even visits “Pops” at an assisted living facility, where he found a new love. But she is in uncharted territory, and so is Turov. The author takes a risk with a first-person narrative centered on a complex character, more reminiscent of Lisbeth Salander than Sandy Stern, and set in a town that’s definitely not in Kindle County.
While Turow’s new protagonist is a breath of fresh air, there are some implausible twists involving TWO and the person pulling his strings, plot-sluggish doldrums full of TMI about Pinky’s romantic entanglements, clunky investigative accounts, and minor gaffes around a pivotal one black character. However, what’s really suspicious is why Turow wasn’t more thoughtful in designing key plot points, characters, and motivations. Nonetheless, given the novel’s somewhat abrupt ending, it’s clear that time flies, as does Pinky Granum. Only time will tell if she will mature into a character worthy of Kindle County’s legacy.
Woods is a book critic, editor and author of Four Detective Charlotte Justice Mysteries.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2022-09-26/review-in-his-latest-thriller-scott-turow-tries-to-learn-some-new-tricks Review: Scott Turow has a new millennial heroine in ‘Suspect’