Evanston's Scott Turow discusses literature, litigation and 'The Last Trial'
Lest its title spark concern, "The Last Trial," Scott Turow's new courtroom thriller, is not his last.
"It's Sandy Stern's last trial," said the best-selling author and lawyer referring to his defense attorney protagonist, "but it's not the last rodeo for me."
Releasing on Tuesday, May 12, "The Last Trial," set in Turow's fictional Kindle County, Illinois, centers on octogenarian Stern (introduced in Turow's 1987 novel "Presumed Innocent") who defends his good friend, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist accused of fraud and murder.
"For the first few passages of 'The Last Trial,' I didn't know who the narrator was. I had no idea who committed the crime," said Turow, adding one of the novel's big reveals came to him after he'd been working on the story for months.
After more than a dozen novels, Turow says his characters still manage to surprise him.
"I know how silly and romantic it sounds to say what every novelist I know says, which is that the characters take on a life of their own," he said. "We know Sandy Stern, as he's been portrayed, is a paragon who is faultless in the courtroom. All of a sudden I found him making a serious blunder and it came as a surprise to me."
Stern, at this point in the novels, is "a very old man," Turow said.
"You're always in conversation with the characters. Sometimes they do things you don't like or don't think will fit but usually those surprises work out well," Turow said.
Turow began writing his blockbuster, "Presumed Innocent," in fragments during his morning commute from his then-home in Wilmette to Chicago's Oglivie Transportation Center.
That went on for years until summer 1984 when -- while on a three-week vacation from the U.S. attorney's office -- he bought a computer and organized the material.
After more than 40 years, his writing process remains much the same.
"The process of exploring things in my odd way and figuring them out is the same," said the Evanston resident who has already begun his next book.
"This week I wrote a narrator reflecting on her grandmother," he said of his current project. He's not sure where he'll use the scene, but he's not worried.
After more than a dozen novels and several nonfiction works, the satisfaction he gets from writing remains undiminished, like the satisfaction he gets from courtroom work.
His most satisfying case involved his client Alejandro Hernandez, who along with Rolando Cruz was wrongfully convicted three times for the 1983 murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico, of Naperville. Brian Dugan, convicted of murdering a 7-year-old girl and a 27-year-old woman, pleaded guilty to Nicarico's murder in 2009 and is serving a life sentence.
"The day I saw Alex Hernandez as a free man was the most satisfying day of my life as a lawyer," he said. "Nothing can compare to knowing you've made that kind of life-changing difference for another individual, that you've restored the universe to the way it's supposed to work in the case of that one person."
For Turow, contentment comes from doing work -- literary and legal -- that makes him proud.
Asked to decide between being a novelist and litigator, he declines to answer.
"I don't have to choose," he said. "And I'm not going to."