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Switch-hitting Dynamo -- Scott Turow.

Scott Turow is a remarkable and highly productive man; of that there can be little doubt. He has succeeded at not one but two highly competitive careers -- law and literature. Lawyers with dreams of breaking into print can only shake their heads in awe: how does he do it? With iron discipline, huge dollops of energy and intelligence, and a workaholic routine, that's how. Before discussing Turow's The Laws of Our Fathers, an ambitious attempt to write an epic novel of American society and to provide the excitement of a sensational murder trial, let's review his career to date.

Our switch-hitting dynamo was born in Chicago, the windy city with a reputation as a mean, often corrupt metropolis where bandit capitalism got an early start. He grew up with the corruption of the infamous political machine of Mayor Richard Daley, built on patronage, personality and corruption. Corruption has existed at all institutional levels in this Darwinian metropolis. The Chicago police were notorious for their robbery and extortion rings. A typical Chicago joke goes like this: a motorist is stopped for speeding and is given a ticket. "Thank Heavens," he exclaims, "I was afraid it was a stick-up."

Chicago is the home of both Al Capone and Saul Bellow, the Nobel prizewinning novelist born in Quebec. Bellow has been a major inspiration to Turow and his ability to write about social and intellectual problems in an absorbing and accessible manner is something that

Turow, in his treatment of the legal thriller, desires to emulate. Turow's parents were hard-working and success-oriented. They seem to have instilled in him a raging competitive streak. The budding writer attended university in the late sixties and graduate school at Stanford in the early seventies -- a turbulent and heady time to be sure. While his lifestyle was not too dissimilar to that of his peers, he imbibed enough of the revolutionary spirit of that era to warrant being described, in his phrase, as a "wild-assed hippy."

Turow had a few stories published and moved on to become a creative writing teacher. He was offered an even better university post in 1974 but reevaluated his career path. He chose instead to attend Harvard Law School. This was an ordeal by fire, of which he has given an account in his classic primer for law school students, One L.

After graduation, our man of law became an assistant US attorney, which he described as "a dream job, because it presented an opportunity to combat things I, growing up, had felt were terribly unjust." He moved back to his hometown and attacked his new post with typical fervour.

Someone wishing to do battle with venality and injustice plans to be very busy when he sets up shop in Chicago, which becomes the notorious Kindle County of Turow's fiction. In short order, Turow was assigned to the team prosecuting Illinois' former Attorney General for tax fraud. After that he became an important player in Operation Greylord, a long, intricate federal investigation into Chicago's courts. The court system was badly tainted by the fact that circuit court judges had to be slated by political parties before they could run for election. The influence peddling which fuelled the political machine inevitably became part of the judicial process as well. Derek Lundy in his informative short biography Scott Turow: Meeting the Enemy, ECW Press, provides an example of a typical scam. The chief of the Chicago Traffic Court would regularly assign drunk driving cases to judges on the take. Defendants happily paid a few hundred dollars to a judge in order to secure an acquittal. The judge would then kick back part of the payoff to the chief.

The remarkable ten-year investigation into these matters, involving the wiretapping of a disaffected lawyer and judge, and the "flipping" of certain guilty parties, ultimately led to a major haul. In all, 9 judges, 37 lawyers and 19 policemen and court clerks were convicted in what has been hailed as one of the most successful undercover operations in U.S. legal history. (Alas, this is not to say that one can confidently conclude that influence peddling and corruption has been eradicated.)

Turow capped his prosecutorial career with a high-profile investigation into the finances of a notorious circuit judge, who was sentenced to 18 years for soliciting over $200,000 in corrupt payments and for related crimes.

Somehow, through all of that, Turow continued to write regularly! Indeed, he drew heavily on his day job to conjure up the dark atmosphere of his first novel, the acclaimed courtroom thriller Presumed Innocent.

Turow left government to join a prestigious Chicago law firm and to secure a work schedule that allowed more time for his literary ambitions. He published two further thrillers before embarking on his first attempt to transcend that genre -- The Laws of Our Fathers.
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Author:Normey, Rob
Date:Feb 1, 2000
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