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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Reversible Errors

Scott Turow

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To purchase Reversible Errors

Title: Reversible Errors
Author: Scott Turow
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002
Length: 433 pages
Availability: Reversible Errors - US
Reversible Errors - UK
Reversible Errors - Canada
Vice de forme - France
Das Gift der Gewissheit - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : solid but only somewhat gripping legal thriller

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 12/1/2003 Jeff Glorfeld
The NY Times . 29/10/2002 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. A 3/11/2002 Wendy Lesser
The Observer A+ 24/11/2002 Peter Guttridge
San Francisco Chronicle . 3/11/2002 David Lazarus
Sunday Telegraph B+ 29/12/2002 Sam Leith
The Times A 16/11/2002 Peter Millar
TLS B+ 29/11/2002 Sean O'Brien
The Washington Post A 27/10/2002 Jonathan Yardley

  Review Consensus:

  Not quite a consensus, but generally very positive

  From the Reviews:
  • "Reversible Errors manages to be thoroughly compelling and also reasonably believable, perhaps the best thing he has written." - Jeff Glorfeld, The Age

  • "But while the reader quickly becomes immersed in these characters' lives, the cheesy contrivances of the story line (...) undermine trust in Mr. Turow's narrative. (...) Much as the reader comes to care about Mr. Turow's characters, one ends up wishing that these people had been involved in a more compelling legal case -- and a more compelling novel." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "The solution to the novel's legal problem is a satisfyingly intricate one, and nobody will want his money back on the plot. But the echoes that will remain in your mind after you've finished Reversible Errors will mainly have to do with the novel's other elements." - Wendy Lesser, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Reversible Errors is a novel with enough twists to make it a satisfying puzzle. It also has some meaty and dramatic courtroom duels. Its great strength, however, is that it's rooted in this bunch of utterly believable characters. Even minor characters are drawn with care. (...) Reversible Errors is a thoughtful delineation of the interaction between law and life, a humane examination of flawed people and an engrossing mystery. Terrific. " - Peter Guttridge, The Observer

  • "Turow brings to the mix his usual deft hand with characters, fleshing out the entire cast and making their actions plausible. He also provides enough surprises to keep the story moving and the reader guessing." - David Lazarus, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "It is hugely interesting, and Turow has an almost religious reverence for the bleak majesty of the legal process. It is when Turow starts writing that we encounter problems" - Sam Leith, Sunday Telegraph

  • "(T)his is not so much a straightforward thriller as a soap opera with three intertwined plots, each of which contains "reversible errors" that lead to their resolution. As such it is a hugely successful construct. Every twist and turn of the legal procedure --described as ever in meticulous detail without becoming tedious -- is tied in with the tortuous evolution of each side’s personal relationships." - Peter Millar, The Times

  • "Turow struggles with tone and an almost religious inflation in the love stories, but Reversible Errors is an absorbing and unsettling treatment of complex material." - Sean O'Brien, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Reversible Errors is Turow's sixth novel and one of his best. (...) It is a complicated story -- all Turow's stories are complicated -- but not merely in terms of dramatis personae and plot. What makes it interesting is that it is complicated legally and morally as well as structurally." - Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The novel's title -- Reversible Errors -- suggests that something went wrong in the case at issue here. Rommy Gandolph, convicted of a triple-murder, sentenced to death, and scheduled -- when the book opens -- to die in thirty-three days certainly has to hope so. Arthur Raven has been assigned to handle the final appeal, which he dutifully does with the eager young associate Pamela at his side. He doesn't expect to be able to do much -- but, of course, soon finds that the case is much more complicated than it first appeared.
       Rommy isn't particularly bright, but he does maintain his innocence. Unfortunately, back in 1991, he confessed to the crime ..... That made convicting him pretty easy, and makes it unlikely he could be spared his final, capital punishment -- only truly damning evidence that he didn't do it (or that someone else did) can save him.
       The first part of the book alternates chapters between the beginning of this final appeals process in 2001 and events in 1991. By showing how Rommy's confession was obtained Turow casts the first doubts on his guilt -- but that's not where the reversible errors can be found. Instead it's a dying convict's claim that the crime played out quite differently that sets the whole chain of events going: Erno Erdai makes a pretty convincing case that Rommy is innocent.
       Turow arranges his novel largely around two couples: Arthur and the judge who convicted (and sentenced) Rommy, Gillian Sullivan on the one hand, and the prosecuting attorney Muriel Wynn and Larry Starczek, the investigating detective (who had, among other things, elicited the confession from Rommy). They aren't quite human wrecks, but they aren't too close to being happy, fulfilled people either. Gillian suffered the greatest fall, winding up in jail herself. Lonely Arthur (who is also burdened with a schizophrenic sister) and she find some comfort with each other, but this case, which brought them together, also eventually comes back to haunt them. Muriel and Larry are both ambitious and eager to do right -- but here right is a difficult balance between doing everything to see that a conviction they brought about isn't overturned and acknowledging the ever more apparent truth that maybe they didn't get it right that first time. Muriel's political ambitions and their other partners also get in the way .....
       Reversible Errors is partly a legal procedural, following the steps of appeals and rulings, but Turow doesn't focus too much on the legal minutiae. Some of the legal steps do move the action forward -- information that has to be disclosed to opposing counsel, the legal maneuverings -- but it's all secondary to his characters. Arthur, Gillian, Muriel, and Larry -- with all their very human weaknesses (and occasional strengths) -- drive the action and dominate the book.
       Interestingly (and not entirely successfully) Turow focusses on the legal professionals -- judges, lawyers, policeman -- rather than the criminals and victims. Rommy, in particular, seems little more than a prop -- a simpleton and an almost entirely secondary character -- which blunts some of the impact of the book. There is never much sense of desperation about the possibility of his being put to death in any case, and by keeping him so in the background Turow lessens the reader's interest in his fate; the final result seems almost anti-climactic.
       Most of the interest the book holds lies in the mysterious truth: what actually happened. Turow effectively shows how a variety of characters manipulated situations and events. Uncovering the truth mean pulling away several layers, not all of which can be done easily or painlessly. Truth will out, more or less -- but also at great personal cost. Some can handle it, others can't. A particularly nice (though ugly) touch is the final spin put on things -- how justice is served here.
       Reversible Errors doesn't move along very smoothly. The back and forth, showing the unfolding story from both sides, seems the right approach, but the focus too often shifts from the story to the characters. And there is simply too much background and baggage to these characters: it weighs down the story and distracts. Other aspects of the novel -- Turow's refusal to allow much to be depicted simply as black and white or right or wrong, and to show how the legal process can be manipulated by the participants -- are more impressive.
       The focus on the characters (rather than the legal aspects of the story) is an interesting approach, but Turow overdoes it by focussing on four rather than simply one or two (as well as by so ignoring Rommy). (Also: they really do seem to have a lot of baggage.)
       The story itself is quite good, but presented as it is it lumbers along much of the way. Reversible Errors is a solid legal thriller, but not an exceptional one, a decent read but not a truly gripping one.

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Reversible Errors: Reviews: Scott Turow: Other books by Scott Turow under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Scott Turow has written numerous bestselling legal thrillers.

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© 2002-2008 the complete review

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