As Scott Turow worked on 2020’s “The Last Trial,” the best-selling author of legal thrillers noticed that a new character on the edges of his story kept creeping into the plot.
“The Last Trial,” like Turow’s 1987 breakout, “Presumed Innocent” featured attorney Sandy Stern. But it was Stern’s quirky granddaughter Clarice “Pinky” Granum who kept demanding more time on the page, Turow says.
“Somewhere historically, because Stern appears in almost every novel, I mentioned that his daughter Kate had a daughter that she didn’t get along with,” Turow says. “I can’t even remember where or how or whether that line even made it into the novel, but I’m pretty sure I said something like that.”
Scott Turow’s new thriller “Suspect” sets loose the unpredictable private investigator Pinky Granum in a case that involves police corruption and possibly a charming hitman or spy next door. (Image courtesy of Grand Central Publishing)
Scott Turow’s new thriller “Suspect” sets loose the unpredictable private investigator Pinky Granum in a case that involves police corruption and possibly a charming hitman or spy next door. (Photo by Kubal Luczkiewicz)
Scott Turow’s new thriller “Suspect” sets loose the unpredictable private investigator Pinky Granum in a case that involves police corruption and possibly a charming hitman or spy next door. (Photo by Kubal Luczkiewicz; book image courtesy of Grand Central Publishing)
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The idea lay dormant in his imagination for years until “The Last Trial,” when Turow thought to place Pinky, a washout at the police academy, who’d also had a few run-ins with the law, in Stern’s employ as a paralegal and investigator.
Turow knows a book is going well “when there is a character who sort of runs away with the book – who demands more space and more pages and more time on stage than you originally planned,” he says.
“Pinky was that character,” he says of the pink-haired, septum-pierced protagonist at the heart of “Suspect.”
The relationship between Stern and Pinky, grandfather and granddaughter, was at the heart of the appeal for Turow. Especially the ways in which their love for each other transcended their differences, he says.
“It’s always great when what you are actually writing kind of sneaks up on you,” Turow says. “I kind of loved Pinky for that reason. She’s sort of a scene stealer.
“And I thought, ‘Well maybe that young woman should have a book of her own.”
“Suspect,” which arrives on Tuesday, Sept. 27, is Pinky’s book. In it, she’s working for defense attorney Rik Dudek, who is representing Police Chief Lucia Gomez against charges that she coerced three officers into having sex with her in exchange for their promotions.
The chief, Rik, and particularly Pinky, are convinced it’s a set-up, a revenge plot cooked up by The Ritz, a crooked cop-turned-corrupt businessman known as The Ritz.
Of course, Pinky being Pinky, she takes on an extracurricular investigation over the objections of Rik and grandfather Sandy after she becomes convinced that the mysterious and attractive new tenant in the apartment next to hers is up to something.
“I started there,” Turow says. “Just because it seemed really Pinky-ish, to me, to become convinced that guy next door was a hitman or in witness protection.”
Stepping into new shoes
There was one obstacle Turow had to convince himself he could overcome, he says.
“It seemed somewhat audacious, to be honest, for me, a now-73-year-old male to be writing about a female 40 years younger,” Turow says. “And one whose social experiences do not reprise any of mine.”
He wrote his editor to ask his opinion about not only writing the character but telling the story in her first-person voice. After sending the editor a draft of the first chapter, they decided Turow should write it as his instinct told him he should.
“Neither one of us ever looked back,” Turow says. “I did it; it seemed relatively smooth sailing.
“I think the key was that from the time Pinky first appeared on the page in ‘The Last Trial’ I kind of got her,” he says. “I understood her. I felt the sincerity at her core, and her sort of well-intentioned way of very often (messing) up.
“She was always clear to me.”
Not that he didn’t check himself as he wrote Pinky, including asking outside readers including his daughter and stepdaughter to read the manuscript for feedback on Pinky’s millennial voice.
“I had a lot of people take a look at the book to make sure I wasn’t too far out over my skis,” Turow says. “But I had a great time with her. She was a lot of fun to live with despite her conviction that she’s not a good roommate.”
A new kind of trial
For Turow, a new thriller requires not just compelling characters and a twist-filled plot to keep readers guessing, it requires a legal framework around which each new book’s courtroom action revolves.
“I find, like a lot of people, that the experiences from earlier in my life sort of recirculate in my imagination,” says Turow, who throughout his career as an author has also practiced law.
“So when I left the U.S. Attorney’s Office, one of the first substantial cases that came to me was being hired in Oak Park, Illinois to be a special prosecutor investigating that police department, and then trying two different highly contested police disciplinary cases.”
As a federal prosecutor and in private practice, Turow worked with police officers in all manner of cases criminal and civil. Setting the legal issues in “Suspect” within a police commission holding hearings on alleged misconduct by a chief seemed both familiar and fresh, he says.
“I tried those cases; I knew how they ran,” Turow says. “I saw a lot about the police and I hadn’t really written that much from that experience.
The idea of having his accused police chief be a woman instead of a man also appealed to him as a different way to approach the issues of sexual harassment allegations in the workplace.
“As I started thinking about it, my fingers started twitching,” Turow says. “It just felt like it was going to be pretty interesting to write.”
While Turow has often had characters jump between books – most of his stories take place in the fictional Kindle County, a stand-in for the Chicago metro area – he’s never done a traditional sequel or a series based on one character.
For now, that means he doesn’t plan to write a new Pinky book anytime soon – though that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get more of her in the future.
Producer-writer David E. Kelley has optioned “Suspect” and “he certainly envisions further adventures for Pinky,” Turow says.
First, though, Kelly has a different Turow adaptation to bring to life. Apple TV has ordered a series based on Turow’s “Presumed Innocent,” the book that also inspired a 1990 hit movie starring Harrison Ford as Rusty Sabich and the late Raul Julia as Sandy Stern.
Shooting for the show is supposed to start in Los Angeles in January, Turow says. After this, Kelley has told him he plans to get to work on Pinky and “Suspect.”
“That’s certainly his vision of what he wants to do,” Turow says. “She couldn’t be in better hands.”
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