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THE BEST BOOKS OF 1996 | FICTION

THE LAWS OF OUR FATHERS By Scott Turow; Farrar Straus & Giroux: 534 pp., $26.95

December 29, 1996|EDNA BUCHANAN

The tension and violence on America's big-city streets erupts in semiautomatic weapon fire to launch "The Laws of Our Fathers," Scott Turow's gripping new novel. A white senator's ex-wife and a black teenage street whore are left sprawled like the detritus of the night on bloodied pavement at dawn. The two have nothing, and everything, in common. The bullets that cut them down are echoes of a past generation, recalling protest bombings, tear gas barrages and the antiwar and civil rights chants heard 25 years earlier.

Some critics bitched and moaned that Turow's subsequent bestsellers, "The Burden of Proof" and "Pleading Guilty," failed to match the promise of his first novel, the darkly engrossing "Presumed Innocent," nearly a decade ago. They can stop whining now. Sure, "Presumed Innocent," with its intriguing murder mystery and its hero caught in a maelstrom of sexual obsession, was a tough act to follow. But "The Laws of Our Fathers" must be viewed as Turow's most stunning achievement and it is certainly his most ambitious effort.

This novel, too, is a legal thriller and murder mystery, but it also has missing people, old puzzles from the past, long-lost lovers reunited, old enemies unforgiven and most of all, history. Our own.

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