Picks and Pans Review: Pleading Guilty

updated 06/07/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/07/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Scott Turow

After staking his claim as king of the courtroom thriller with Presumed Innocent and The Burden of Proof lawyer-writer Turow returns with a mystery that keeps far from the courthouse. But he hasn't totally fled the jurisdiction; Pleading Guilty focuses on a white-glove corporate law firm with dirty hands in a fictitious city resembling Chicago, with detours into murder, offshore banking and illegal bookmaking.

The story unreels on tapes made by lawyer Mack Malloy, a 50ish Irish ex-cop and ex-boozer hanging on by his fingernails as a partner at Gage & Griswell. Days before his vital annual performance review, the ruling troika gives him an assignment he can't refuse: track down a partner who has vanished with several million dollars from the account of the firm's biggest client.

The rub is that Turow fails to capitalize on this promising premise. His biggest problem is Mack, by turns sardonic and sentimental, but never more than a stereotype and never as wise-guy funny as the author seems to think. This considerably weakens our interest in his ethical quandaries, not to mention his boozy-sounding attempts at philosophizing. But Turow lets interest flag anyway; the plot ends with a bang but doesn't gather steam until halfway through. Instead there's plenty of hot air: "I have a sad heart, stomped on, fevered and corrupted, and a brain that boils at night in a ferment of awful dreams." Judging by Pleading Guilty, Turow is no Elmore Leonard. But on the basis of his past record, let's put him on probation. And hope he doesn't become a repeat offender. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24)

From Our Partners