More than 30 years ago, Scott Turow released his first legal mystery, Presumed Innocent, a best seller that soon had any lawyer with a modicum of writing ability penning novels. Since then, Turow, a Chicago attorney, has continued to specialize in complex, multi-faceted books about the legal scene in scene in Kindle County—think Cook County. But in the just released Testimony (Grand Central 2017; $28) Turow moves beyond Kindle when his protagonist, United States attorney and criminal defender Bill ten Boom accepts a job working for the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. ten Boom is suffering mid-life crisis blues and prosecuting the genocide of 400 Roma men, women and children who were buried alive in a cave is just the uber change he needs as the typical solution of a red sports car just wasn’t going to do it for him.
ten Boom has a witness, the lone survivor of the massacre which took place in Bosnia. It should be easy but there are layers upon layers of misperceptions, lies and half-truths as well as centuries of nationalistic pride and grievances, the prejudices against the Roma (or gypsies) and his own vulnerabilities for ten Boom to sort through. It doesn’t help when he finds himself engulfed in an affair with sexy Esma Czarni, a time-bomb of a woman with a law degree from Cambridge and a Roma background. Czarni, who gobbles up ten Boom like he’s so much candy, is, of course, not to be trusted.
So how did Turow come up with all these thread to weave such a story?
“In 2000, I was at a reception in The Hague and found myself in a circle of lawyers who said you have to write about this–it’s an amazing case,” he recalls. “Usually when people say they have an amazing case it’s about their divorce but this actually did sound fascinating.”
His interest in the Roma culture goes much further back to some 40 years ago when he was visiting a sick relative at Rush Hospital.
“The King of the Gypsies was ill and there were Roma camped all over the hospital, the staff had to lock patients’ doors because things were disappearing,” he recalls.
When their king died, the Roma departed as well but not before removing all the large metal ash trays (smoking was permitted in hospitals back then) in the waiting rooms.
“At the time I thought to myself I have to figure these people out—they’re clearly coming from a different place than me,” says Turow. “Why would they do this knowing it would make people hate them and less willing to deal with them in the future. What I later learned when researching for this book is that there’s no tense but the present in the Roma language and no written or oral tradition for passing down information. Their history goes only as far back as the oldest Roma alive. So that’s a big cultural difference from us.”
Scott Turow has three book events in the Chicago area.
What: Scott Turow in-conversation with Dave Berner (journalist, NPR’s Weekend Edition contributor and associate professor at Columbia College Chicago).
When: Wednesday, May 24 at 6:30pm
Where: Hollywood Blvd. Cinema, Bar & Eatery, 1001 West 75th St., Woodridge, IL
Cost: Advance tickets are required and may be purchased from Frugal Muse by calling (630) 427-1140 or stopping in the store.
FYI: This will be a ticketed event, the discussion and audience Q&A will take place at the theater and then the book signing will be at the museum.
What: Talk, Q&A and book signing with Scott Turow
When: Thursday, May 25 at 7pm
Where: Barnes & Noble Old Orchard, 55 Old Orchard Center, Skokie, IL
When: Saturday, June 10 at 11:00am- 11:45am
Where: Harold Washington Library Center, Multipurpose Room, 400 S State St, Chicago, IL
FYI: (312) 747-4300