Tommy presided over the explosive case against Rusty, navigating a maze of wobbly investigation and situational ethics before being censured himself for mishandling evidence. Although Rusty later helped Tommy get his job back, animosity lingers on both sides. Rusty resents Tommy’s continuing belief that he got away with murder while Tommy seethes over the acquittal and the collateral career damage it caused.
History, or, in this case, bitter history, repeats itself two decades later.
This time, Rusty is accused of murdering his wife, a miserable but brilliant woman who never recovered from the earlier trial – or the effects of her husband’s affair. For many years afterward, Barbara Sabich controlled and manipulated her husband and smothered their son Nat. Now Nat is out of the house and husband and wife live in a state of uneasy détente.
Six weeks before voters decide whether Rusty wins a spot on the state supreme court, Barbara dies. At first, her death is ruled to be of natural causes.
Soon enough, though, whispers abound. When Barbara died, Rusty sat in their bedroom, next to the corpse, for 23 hours before alerting anyone. He claimed shock and grief. Barbara’s unexpected, unexplained death fuels suspicion for other reasons as well. She was blessed with youthful looks and was known for her dedicated exercise regimen.
Then, too, subsequent poking around reveals that Rusty had consulted with a divorce lawyer just before Barbara’s death. He has also been followed to various hotels around town, where he stays for a couple of hours in the afternoon and then dashes away. That obvious sign of marital trouble is compounded when investigators discover Rusty has taken a test for sexually transmitted diseases.
Bit by bit, Tommy, spurred by his hard-charging and ambitious deputy, assembles a murder case. Powerful drugs missed in the coroner’s toxicology scan, the fraying marriage, and revelations of Rusty’s affair point to him as the killer.
Of course, Turow never paints in black and white, preferring the gray skies that cloud so many Midwestern winters. Which means Tommy, not just Rusty, brings considerable baggage, political trepidation, and extenuating circumstances to the case.
To this heady concoction Turow adds a few more lethal ingredients, starting with the long-fractured father-son relationship between Rusty and Nat, an intelligent but troubled 28-year-old battling family secrets new and old.