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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Personal Injuries

Reviewed: September 20, 2002
By: Scott Turow
Publisher: Warner/Vision Books
512 Pages, $10.99

The paperback edition of Turow's latest legal novel falls nicely into our hands in a season when corporate corruption is a constant theme throughout the land to the south of us and many people are wondering what can be done.

This is a tale of legal malfeasance in Turow's fictitious land of Kindle County, the scene of all his novels so far. Like those which have gone before, the story is framed by matters of law, but really has to do with matters of the heart and soul.

Our narrator is George Mason, but he is a witness to the tale here, rather than a Perry Mason-like protagonist.  Mason is approached by another lawyer, a fellow named Robbie Feaver, when Feaver is caught in the act of making payoffs to judges in the system. With misgivings, Mason takes the case, and is then caught up in the massive sting operation planned by the FBI to determine the true extent of  corruption in the state’s system.

The name of the book comes from the nature of Feaver's practice. With his boyhood friend, Morton Dinnerstein, Robbie has carved out a successful practice in the personal injury area of law, but its success has been partly dependent on the connivance of senior judges in the system.  The Internal Revenue Service may have caught Robbie for non-payment of taxes on income,  but the State Attorney General and the FBI were much more interested in where the money from that separate bank account had gone than they were in getting the back taxes.

Personal injuries also refers to the lives of a lot of the people in the novel, and this is where it departs significantly from the work of other trial/mystery writers. They would be interested in working with the private lives of their characters to see how they tied into the case at hand.  Turow is more interested in how the case throws light on the lives of his characters.

Feaver, for instance, is in some ways a very moral individual, faithful to his friends and to his own code of honour. He is devoted to his wife, who is rapidly dying of ALS (Lou Gerhig's Disease) while at the same time he suffers from an acute case of Clinton/Kennedy Syndrome, and has bedded every available female in sight.

Robbie just doesn't see his legal troubles as being part of the real world somehow.  To him, all those activities are part of an exciting game he plays with part of his life, a game at which he has been very successful, a game which is perhaps a substitute for his frustrated desire to be an actor.

The other major character in the novel is Evon Miller. This is not her real name, since she is an UCO (Under Cover Operative) assigned to shadow Robbie almost everywhere he goes. Officially she is his new executive assistant, but everyone "knows" she must be his latest mistress as well. Robbie does his level best to make this a reality, but all the pressure merely serves to confirm her own growing suspicions about her sexual orientation.

Mason, who has access to testimony from most of the principals in the case, as well as to his own observations of keys events, sits in the background of this story and spins it out for us, occasionally stepping out of the shadows to make a comment or reveal some part of his own personal struggle.

He has a problem with the whole operation and it is that the good guys are required to do some very bad guys sorts of things in order to bring the ungodly to justice. George has a longstanding personal relationship with the State Attorney, Stan Sennett. He has always felt that Sennett chose the higher ground by taking on the job of prosecutor at lower pay while he, George, became relatively wealthy defending some of Stan's targets. At the end of this story, he is no longer certain about Stan's moral superiority. That's his own particular personal injury.

This is an excellent and thoughtful book, with elements that make it a great page turner as well as a great novel.

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