Scott Turow

     Writing his first legal thriller, Presumed Innocence (1986), Scott Turow was pleased to come up with the perfect name for his smart and sophisticated defense attorney: Alejandro “Sandy” Stern.


    What he’d forgotten was that he liked the name so much he'd used it as a pseudonym in his first book, the memoir One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School (1977).

    When his editor at FSG, Jonathan Galassi, noticed the repetition, Turow recounted in a recent essay, “I was panicked, because the name for the defense lawyer somehow seemed perfect to me, capturing so much of the character—named Alejandro Stern at his birth in Argentina, he decides, after his emigration, to call himself ‘Sandy’ in his tireless quest to be a real American. I was depressed by the thought of having to make a change. But Jonathan laughed off my concerns. ‘Let it be,’ he suggested. The coincidence could be a source of amusement for eagle-eyed fans.”

    Turns out his legions of fans didn’t need to be that sharp because Stern would appear in almost every one of his 12 novels, taking a star turn in Turow’s latest novel, The Last Trial.

    Now 85, Stern is on the brink of retirement when his old friend Dr. Kiril Pafko, a Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, is charged with insider trading, fraud, and murder in connection with a cancer drug he has developed – and which may have saved Stern’s life a decade before. In his last trial, Stern probes beneath the surface of his friend's dazzling veneer as a distinguished cancer researcher, questioning everything he thought he knew about his friend.

    In his Washington Post review, Bill Sheehan writes that “the trial that follows is a complex and highly technical affair. Turow has done his homework, and his incremental presentation of the evidence not only illuminates the legal issues involved, but it also offers a thorough, digestible account of the steps — research, development, testing — by which a newly created drug is brought to market. … The result is another intelligent page turner by an acknowledged master.”

    Janet Maslin agrees with that assessment in her New York Times review: “In this meticulously devised courtroom drama, rich with character detail, Turow again demonstrates what he does best: roll out a complex, keenly observed legal case yet save a boatload of surprises for its ending. And make it personal. There’s a lot of Sandy’s own life wrapped up in the case with which he’s exiting.”

    In Turow’s hometown paper, the Chicago Tribune, Rick Kogan writes: “I greatly appreciate how he ends his time with Stern. Later in the novel, Stern stands in his office and ‘thinks suddenly about his career. Was it worth it? But he has no doubt. … It is at heart a very nasty business to accuse, to judge, to punish. But the law, at least, seeks to govern misfortune, to ensure a society’s wrath is not visited at random. In human affairs, reason will never fully triumph; but there is no better cause to champion.’ ”


     Scott Turow’s Top Ten List

    1. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (1916), which first showed me that fiction could articulate what I took as wild and private dreams.
    2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877), because of the powerful and intimate rendition of these webbed lives.
    3. The Rabbit Tetralogy by John Updike - Rabbit Run (1960), Rabbit Redux (1971), Rabbit is Rich (1981), Rabbit at Rest (1990) - because of their acute observation and moral courage.
    4. Herzog by Saul Bellow (1964), for its extraordinary language, intellectual power and its observations of Chicago.
    5. Tell Me A Riddle (1960) by Tillie Olsen, for its inventiveness and power.
    6. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844), for its spectacular plot.
    7. Collected Works of William Shakespeare, for their miraculous language and extraordinary observations about humanity.
    8. The Bear by William Faulkner (1942), for telling the quintessential American story from inside the American mind.
    9. Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934), an extremely contemporary book that anticipated much of our current preoccupation with gender.
    10. The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (1933), for its elegance and perfect mystery.

    New List

    David Mitchell

    1. The Duel by Anton Chekhov (1891).
    2.1984by George Orwell (1948).
    3.Heart of Darknessby Joseph Conrad (1899).
    4.Sense and Sensibilityby Jane Austen (1811).
    5.The Master and Margaritaby Mikhail Bulgakov (1966).
    6.As I Lay Dyingby William Faulkner (1930).
    7.Tom Jonesby Henry Fielding (1749).
    8.Labyrinthsby Jorge Luis Borges (1964).
    9.W, or The Memory of Childhoodby Georges Perec (1975).
    10.The Makioka Sistersby Junichiro Tanizaki (1943–48).
    Wild Card:Lolly Willowesby Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926).


    Classic List

    Top Ten African-American Works

    1. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952). 
    2. Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987). 
    3. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977). 
    4. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937). 
    5. Native Son by Richard Wright (1945). 
    6. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (1959). 
    7. Another Country by James Baldwin (1962). 
    8. Cane by Jean Toomer (1923). 
    9. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid (1990). 
    10. Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown (1965). 


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