Legal thriller Death Match: Grisham vs. Turow!
Scott Turow invented the modern legal thriller in 1987 with Presumed Innocent. But John Grisham took it to the heights of popularity with The Firm (1991). So who’s the best? The serious minded pioneer, or the mega-selling page-turner?
Now’s a good time to consider this question. Turow picks up the first annual Lawrence A. Sanders Prize at Florida International University tonight. In May, he’s finally coming out, more than 20 years later, with the long-awaited sequel to Presumed Innocent.
So what’s Turow got to say about his rivalry with Grisham?
“John sells more books and I have better reviews,” Turow says. “John’s a wonderful storyteller and a wonderful guy. He has a much wider readership than I do. He’s happy to be read by people in junior high school. I’m trying to write serious novels that don’t have as broad an appeal.”
Don’t feel sorry for Turow, though. His books may not sell in Grisham numbers, but all his novels (among them Burden of Proof, Reversible Errors and The Laws of Our Fathers) have been bestsellers. And Presumed Innocent, his biggest, has sold more than 4 million copies.
Plus, One L, Turow’s nonfiction account of his freshman year at Harvard Law School, has become a classic, continuously in print since its publication in 1977.
“I don’t think of this as a printing press for money,” Turow says of his writing. “I’m lucky to have a pretty broad audience. I’m trying to be a serious writer by my own lights. I want these books to mean something, to me if not to other people. So far, it’s working.”
The new novel, Innocent, comes out May 4. Rusty Sabich (played by Harrison Ford in the 1990 movie version) is now a judge, but he’s under suspicion of murder (a-gain?!), and this time the victim is his wife — who played such a big part in the earlier novel.
“I started thinking about this sequel in 2005, and I was thinking about it a lot,” Turow told me by phone from Chicago. “I don’t know why exactly I wanted to go back to Rusty Sabich.”
Turow is perfect as the inaugural recipient of the Sanders Prize, which carries a $5,000 award. Named for the late Lawrence Sanders, a bestselling thriller writer of the 1970s, ’80s and 90s, it’s intended to show that excellence in literature and popular appeal are not exclusive, says Les Standiford, head of FIU’s creative writing department which administers the prize.
“It’s a point we think is long overdue,” says Standiford. “And the perfect example is Scott Turow.”
Although the Sanders Prize is awarded by Standiford and FIU, it’s funded by the Lawrence A. Sanders Foundation, a Boca Raton-based literary charity established by $14 million the author, who died in 1997, left in his will.
“Sanders was a crime novelist and Scott writes legal thrillers,” explains Standiford. “But this prize is not limited to any genre. Next year it could go to someone like John Irving or Barbara Kingsolver, writers who write doggone good books that also have bestseller appeal.”
Tonight’s ceremony is free and open to the public. Turow will read and discuss his work starting at 8 p.m. It’s all at the FIU Biscayne Campus, Academic 1 Building, Room 194, 3000 NE 15th St., North Miami. Info: 305-919-5857.
Every award feels good, says Turow. “They could etch it on a garbage can lid,” he says. “But this one is in the name of an esteemed writer of suspense. I think that’s really cool.”
So tell us: Who do you like best John Grisham, or Scott Turow?