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Tuesday, 29 August 2017

‘Testimony by Scott Turow

Published by Mantle,
27 July 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-5089-4332-9 (HB)

At first glance, the International Criminal Court in The Hague doesn't appear to be ideal material for fiction. War crimes often require years of meticulous investigation, not to mention even more years spent trying to track down the perpetrators. But Scott Turow, master if not inventor of the art of the legal thriller, can be relied on to turn a heinous offence committed during a brutal conflict into a rattling good tale with more than a few twists.

Testimony is a meaty and many-stranded read, part legal thriller, part man in midlife crisis. It's not a story that will keep you turning the pages all night to get to the denouement, but it is a book that will make you want to come back to it time and time again, to find out exactly what is going on, who the real bad guys are, who is and isn't telling the truth, and whether any resolution can be found to the protagonist's personal dilemmas.

Ferko Rincic, a member of the beleaguered Roma community in eastern Europe, has come forward to testify regarding a massacre of four hundred of his compatriots from one makeshift village during the 1990s conflict which resulted in the break-up of Yugoslavia. His evidence states that they were rounded up and shipped out in stolen lorries, and sent to hide in a deserted mine which was subsequently blown up.

Bill ten Boom, an American lawyer of Dutch descent, has his own reasons for wanting to pursue a new career path, and when he returns to the land of his ancestors to join the International Criminal Court he finds himself heavily involved in Rincic's case – and also involved with Rincic's own counsel, the glamorous and forceful Esma Czarni, herself a Romany.

American troops, Bosnian militants and Serbian militia are all part of the story as Boom, as he is known, and his investigator Goos attempt to uncover the truth about the incident. The narrative doesn't play out exclusively in The Hague's stately legal corridors, although they are brought to life with a certain amount of wry humour. Turow can also write a great action sequence, and build suspense about what really is going on. He portrays almost destitute villages, small Bosnian towns and some of America's more affluent corners with a clarity which has to come from extensive research – of which there's a great deal of evidence throughout the book.

He also knows how to create colourful characters. I especially enjoyed Attila, the lesbian former logistics NCO, and Layton Merriwell, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander; Boom forms warm relationships with them both as well as with the luscious Esma, with ambivalent consequences for the investigation.

Testimony is a substantial volume, but well worth the time and effort a reader will put into it. Scott Turow's earlier work has often thrown light into some of the gloomier corners of legal practice, and revealed goings-on which were previously a well-kept secret. This is no exception, and it's also a great story.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Scott Turow is the author of ten bestselling works of fiction, including Identical, Innocent, Presumed Innocent, and The Burden of Proof, and two nonfiction books, including One L, about his experience as a law student. His books have been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than thirty million copies worldwide, and have been adapted into movies and television projects. He has frequently contributed essays and op-ed pieces to publications such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic. Scott Turow was born in Chicago in 1949. He graduated with high honors from Amherst College in 1970, receiving a fellowship to Stanford University Creative Writing Center which he attended from 1970 to 1972. From 1972 to 1975 Turow taught creative writing at Stanford. In 1975, he entered Harvard Law School, graduating with honors in 1978. From 1978 to 1986, he was an Assistant United States Attorney in Chicago, serving as lead prosecutor in several high-visibility federal trials investigating corruption in the Illinois judiciary. In 1995, in a major pro bono legal effort he won a reversal in the murder conviction of a man who had spent 11 years in prison, many of them on death row, for a crime another man confessed to.

Today, he is a partner in the Chicago office of Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal an international law firm, where his practice centers on white-collar criminal litigation and involves representation of individuals and companies in all phases of criminal matters. Turow lives outside Chicago.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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