Scott Turow’s The Burden of Proof is a novel about the people—lawyers, judges, cops, and clients— who facilitate or impede the administration of justice.
Alejandro “Sandy” Stern arrives home from a business trip to find his wife has committed suicide.
Sandy seems to be the only person shocked.
Sandy’s major client, Dixon Hartness, is the proprietor of a commodities trading firm who is routinely in trouble with federal regulators. He’s in deep trouble now: Federal prosecutors suspect he has been using his insider knowledge and possibly clients’ funds to make a killing in futures trading.
Sandy has reasons to worry. Dixon is not only his sister’s wife, but the employer of his daughter’s husband. And Sandy’s wife wrote Dixon a check for nearly a million dollars just before her suicide.
Sandy solves all the mysteries, not because he’s such a smart lawyer, but because people trust him. Even if Sandy works for disreputable clients, he personally is an honorable man.
I found Burden of Proof impossible to put down. The story’s financial and legal issues are as timely as the morning’s news. Besides that, Turow’s characters are such believable people that you feel you’d recognize them if you met them on the street.
The Burden of Proof by Scott Turow
Farrar Straus Giroux. 1990. 515 p.
1990 bestseller #3; my grade: A
In The Pit: A Story of Chicago, Frank Norris combines a very good story with a mediocre one.
The better story, believe it or not, is about speculating in wheat futures.
Norris shows the challenge of beating the market becomes as addictive as heroin. Once hooked, traders risk their fortunes, their families, their very lives for fractions of a cent per bushel.
The weak, secondary story is a romance. The leading lady of this story marries the leading man of the other.Even she cannot understand her own behavior, which is equally bewildering to readers.
Despite the handicap of the secondary story, The Pit is powerful and very contemporary.
Norris assumes his readers know how commodities trading works. That might have been true in 1903, but I doubt many novel readers today have the necessary background.
However, if you know or are willing to look up how the market works (there’s a good, short explanation in another 1903 bestseller, George Horace Lorimer’s Letters of a Self-Made Merchant to His Son) will find that Norris’s 110-year-old novel gives a remarkably accurate picture of how the global economy of 2013 affects the daily lives of those who haven’t money to play the markets.