Sandy Stern is a fragile 85 after surviving several devastating bouts of cancer, dealing with several other ailments and the deaths of his two wives. But when his longtime friend Kiril Pafko asks Stern, a noted defense lawyer to represent him on charges of inside trading and murder. Stern though doubtful as to whether he has the physical strength and mental acuity to do so. But Stern owes Pafko, a brilliant medical doctor, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and one of the creators of g-Livia, touted as an amazing breakthrough in cancer treatment. Stern knows the latter firsthand as Pafko successfully treated him with g-Livia putting his aggressive cancer into remission.
But Stern was one of the lucky ones. g-Livia also can have deadly side effects, a fact that Pafko is said to have tried to hide by altering test data. He also sold off great amounts of stock in his company that is making the drug, hence the insider trading charge.
And so begins the opening of The Last Trial (Grand Central Publishing), Scott Turow’s latest courtroom thriller. Turow, who is retiring from his legal practice next month, has worked as a lawyer in Chicago for decades. He also is the bestselling author of Presumed Innocent, The Burden of Proof, Innocent and other novels, several of which have been made into movies and in all have sold more than 40 million copies. Turow, who isn’t afraid to throw his characters into dark places where all appears lost, is also credited with inventing the modern legal thriller and it’s easy to see why when reading this absorbing story which delves into drug research, development, testing and FDA approval of pharmaceutical drugs. Though none of these subjects sound fascinating, Turow, who did what he calls a “daunting amount of research,” writes about it in such a way that the process becomes a page turner.
“It also obviously has a weird relevance about rushing pharmaceuticals to market like we are today,” he says, referring to the vaccines said to be on the horizon to treat COVID-19. This being a Turow novel, there are twists and turns, ups and downs and surprises. Even when you think you’re keeping up with the plot twists, he usually manages to stay a step or more ahead. And yet in the end, it all makes sense.
“If you want to get philosophical about it, some of twists and turns stems from graduate school,” says Turow who received an Edith Mirrielees Fellowship to Stanford University’s Creative Writing Center where he attended for two years before entering Harvard Law School where he graduated cum laude. “I’ve always been aware of the artifice of the novel where there is, to some extent game playing with the reader—cat and mouse—which I enjoy doing. I also enjoy reading those stories too.”
Though Turow is retiring he’ll still do a lot of pro bono work, always a passion for him. And he is currently working on another novel. This one is centered around Pinky, Sandy Stern’s granddaughter and paralegal, a bright but erratic young woman who is working at solving the hit and run accident that severely injured Stern several months earlier. Was it an attempt to kill him? Unfortunately, Pinky also has penchant for indulging in illegal drugs. A definite break-out personality, Turow says he’s committed himself to Pinky as his major character but he worries about recreating her inner voice. But it’s a problem he will solve.
“I looked at Pinky from the outside in this book,” he says. “I’ll find my way inside in the next.”