Speaking to Scott Turow is a salutary experience for the jaded crime fiction journo (who has perhaps spoken to too many none-too-bright American authors). It’s a refreshing change to encounter a writer — doyen of the legal thriller alongside John Grisham — whose personal qualities are matched by a sharp intelligence. The conversation ranges over many issues (with his best-selling novels being only one among many topics), and it’s hard to know what to spotlight first. How, for instance, does Turow regard his putative readers?
‘I take my readers as I find them’, he says. ‘There are those who are looking for a page-turning thriller; fine. Some want plausible details of how the courts and juries work; I’m pleased to have them on board too.’ So why do we continue to have a fascination for the legal profession while regarding lawyers as something akin to pond life? (though possibly higher up the evolutionary scale than bankers…)
‘I think there is a plurality of values here’, replies the author. ‘The law is the arbiter of values. And of course we’re all cynical when there is a clear miscarriage of justice for instance, when the OJ trial came to its famously controversial conclusion, many people felt a sense of outrage. But, on the other hand, if you’re being prosecuted for a major crime, who are you are going to call? A lawyer like Johnnie Cochran, of course.’
Is Turow worried by the fact that so many legal thrillers are clogging up bookshops?
‘I don’t think the market is in danger of being swamped yet. There appears to be a stable level of high interest, and for the time being, readers still seem fascinated by the legal thriller genre.’
Turow talks about his belief in science, and is dismissive of the idea that America is rushing headlong towards a kind of dumbed-down religious state.
‘I think the Religious Right is in the minority, and they get more column inches than they actually deserve. They’re on the back foot now, thankfully. Fortunately, most of us are more concerned with science. I have a great faith in DNA, fingerprinting, ballistics — the latter is a key element in Reversible Errors.
Inevitably, we touch on the Hollywood success of the film of Presumed Innocent. ‘All my books have been optioned’, says Turow, ‘And that’s both a good and bad thing. After seeing the film of Presumed Innocent, I have to confess that Harrison’s Ford face became mentally overlaid for me on the face of my protagonist. But in the end, it’s the book that counts, isn’t it?’
Scott Turow is publshed by Bloomsbury