When you crack open a new legal thriller by Scott Turow, you know you’re going to be in good hands. In the veteran author’s latest novel, Suspect, the hands he puts you in are those of narrator Clarice ‘Pinky’ Granum, a 33-year-old private investigator working for downmarket lawyer Rik Dudek. Pinky has acquired a bit of a reputation as a screw-up, not solely because she is one. Maybe it’s the trail of failed romantic relationships, male and female. Maybe it’s the outrageous ink. Maybe it’s the nail in her nose. However, she’s earnest in her work supporting Rik and it’s those very quirks and that sincere dedication that make her a character you want to root for.
This is the 12th book in Turow’s long-running series based in fictional Kindle County, reportedly based on Cook County, home county of Chicago, Illinois. Previous titles in the series include Presumed Innocent and Burden of Proof, which became Hollywood films more than two decades ago. Now Apple TV+ has announced that Presumed Innocent is being reimagined as a TV series by David E Kelley with Dustin Thomason, JJ Abrams and Ben Stephenson.
Lucia Gomez is the police chief of Highland Isle, part of Kindle County. She’s a long-time friend of Rik’s and asks him to represent her. She’s been accused of demanding sexual favours from three officers when they were up for promotion. The three-person Police and Fire Commission has scheduled a hearing. It’s always satisfying to read when a fictional attorney can nail an opposing witness to the courtroom wall, trapped in their own lies.
In this case, the two older detectives learn (or probably they don’t) that they’re not as smart as they think they are. They’re retired now and working for local property magnate Moritz Vojczek, AKA The Ritz. The Ritz is another former cop. He worked in narcotics, where he not only stole cash and dealt drugs, but used them too. When Gomez became chief, she canned him. Now she figures he’s behind the revenge plot to get her fired. You can’t help but worry that his combination of money, connections, street smarts and viciousness will be more than a match for Rik and Pinky.
The third accuser is a little more difficult for Rik to summarily dismiss. Fabian ‘Frito’ Blanco is younger, quiet, a former altar boy and an Afghanistan veteran. Gomez calls him ‘a copper’s cop’. At the hearing, he comes up with a photograph of the chief and him in a shockingly compromising position. It’s a picture that will most probably lead to Lucy’s firing, regardless of the commission’s finding. You’ll probably find the chief likeable, but you may start to doubt her. It seems she isn’t telling everything and it’s nerve-wracking to think she’s leading her legal team into serious trouble.
Pinky’s out-of-the-office life is going in a couple of interesting directions. She has a new neighbour who’s so quiet he’s made her – and me as a reader – suspicious. To use her skills with the PIBOT (Private Investigator Bag Of Tricks), she starts tailing and tracking his middle-of-the-night spying on a nearby technology centre whose main tenant is a major US Department of Defense contractor.
What’s he looking at? Or for? Fans of techno-thrillers will enjoy the deets about surveillance gear and ways to thwart it, which Turow describes it in a way that emphasises capabilities and is never tedious. All this spycraft and actual spying creates an unsettling atmosphere from the outset.
The element most likely to bring Lucy down is that photograph. And how Frito says he obtained it. When he turns up dead, with Lucy the person most motivated to silence him, Rik and Pinky’s simple sextortion case spins out of control. Rik and Pinky dance around the facts they have and wish they had. One thing you’re sure of: the Ritz is never going to give up. Yes, he’s smart, and Rik and Pinky will have to be smarter. The strategy sessions between them and law enforcement are like watching a hard-fought game of chess. They can put all their pieces in the best positions possible, but the Ritz’s next move may be out of their control.
Suspect has a fast-moving story, and much of the enjoyment of it lies in the well-developed character of Pinky. She’s fearless, and you never quite know what she’ll do next. A master plotter like Turow, of course, knows just how to parcel out the clues and the questions to maintain a high level of tension, but Pinky is one of those indelible characters you won’t soon forget.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars