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NewCityNet Turow's Truths

By Shelly Ridenour

SEPTEMBER 27, 1999:  Novelists are often suspected of borrowing from reality for fiction; hell, how many old-school creative writing workshoppers preach the mantra "Write what you know"? By refusing to use a pseudonym, author-lawyer Scott Turow has never hidden the fact that he borrows from reality -- his bestsellers, like "Presumed Innocent" and "The Burden of Proof," are so popular because they offer an insider's perspective of the system.

With his sixth book, "Personal Injuries" (to be released October 7), Turow has not a chance of denying the liberal influence of non-fiction. A dense tome that finds the author returning to his created Kindle County, the story takes readers behind the scenes of an FBI investigation into judges on the take -- a premise remarkably similar to Turow's own experience, in the eighties, as a prosecutor involved in trying the infamous judicial corruption sting, Operation Greylord.

"I don't think I would've been able to hide it at all," Turow laughs. "There wasn't one-for-one matched correspondence, but, obviously, the idea of bringing down corrupt judges with undercover operatives was too close with my personal experiences to fool anybody.

"A lot of stuff was stolen from reality and transformed," he admits. "Those things didn't just pop into my imagination. There's an incident [in the book] where a character takes a body recorder off an operative -- that happened in real life, too, but the circumstances were altered."

The problem -- or one of -- inherent to transforming reality is that someone, somewhere is bound to think they've been immortalized in print.

"There are people who have known that they are at least part of a character," Turow confirms. "And I did lose a friendship I valued over a book. It's a pretty tricky morality -- there's no way to say he was wrong or I was right. He wasn't named but everyone knew it was him. With novels, generally speaking, it's not roman a clef.

"A female lawyer in town claimed Carolyn Polemus in 'Presumed Innocent' was her. I'd had no commerce with this person, but she was convinced it was her. All you can do is scratch your head." And then there are the times when Turow doesn't even realize he's cribbing.

"When I was a prosecutor involved in Greylord, it was such an unpleasant, distasteful experience that I had no recollection of any resemblance between that and some events in 'Personal Injuries' while I was writing," the author says. "It seems stupefying now, I now. I have a complex affection for [main character] Robbie, but such an outright vilification for the real-life person, that the two didn't cross in my head."

When it came to borrowing from his own life, though, Turow's mind was never foggy. "The personal stuff you're well aware of. Like the ['Personal Injuries'] speech given by [U.S. Attorney] Stan Sennett to [narrator] George, explaining his Uncle Petros; that is a true story. Uncle Petros was my grandfather. The exact words 'a poor man like me can't afford to buy a judge' were spoken to me at the same age. It was my way of endowing Sennett with the best of good intentions, and sharing a thing of enormous sentimentality to me."

Personal Injuries by Scott Turow (FSG), $27, 304 pages

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