Fans of courtroom fiction are well aware of the writing of Chicago attorney Scott Turow. Since 1987, he has produced six novels set in fictional Kindle County and its legal environs. As a writer, Turow has been something of a perplexing figure. Clearly, he seeks to rise to the level of an author whose writings appeal to more discerning readers. In the pages of a Turow novel, one finds the writer seeking more than bestseller status. Turow wants literary acceptance in addition to a spot on the New York Times bestseller list.
ORDINARY HEROES is Turow's effort to make a clean break from the courtroom fiction genre and establish himself as a talented author who can do more than turn out a legal potboiler. Fans of Turow will find themselves pleasantly surprised by this historical novel that is both poignant and engrossing, and --- perhaps more important to the author --- a top quality work of literature.
"All parents keep secrets from their children. My father, it seemed, kept more than most." Stewart Dubinsky, retired Kindle County journalist, opens ORDINARY HEROES with this observation as he mourns the passing of his father, David Dubin, at the age of 88. We first meet Lieutenant Dubin as he writes his fiancée enroute to his billet in the European theater during the Second World War. Nearly 60 years later it falls to Dubin's son, who has taken back the original family name of Dubinsky to sort through his father's papers and accompanying memories.
As often happens when adult-age children explore long-ago events in their parents' lives, great surprises are unearthed. The father who spent his days after the war as a corporate lawyer for an insurance company had a secret life as a military lawyer and combat soldier. Most surprising of all to Dubinsky is the revelation that his father was court-martialed and convicted of allowing an OSS officer to escape from custody in the final days of the war. Dubin, sentenced to five years hard labor, is saved from prison thanks to a last-minute decision by the Army to dismiss all charges against him. He died never having shared any details of his military career with his children.
The secret of his father's life having been revealed to Dubinsky means, of course, that it cannot be ignored. Thus begins a journey for Dubinsky that first takes him to his father's attorney, Barrington Leach, still alive but burdened with the failing memory of advanced age. Fortunately, like his journalist son, Dubin was a writer. During his wartime travails he kept a journal of events that his former attorney delivers to Dubinsky. It is this journal that serves as the foundation for the narrative that is ORDINARY HEROES.
Lieutenant Dubin's wartime difficulties center on his relationship with Major Robert Martin, an officer assigned to the OSS, the World War II precursor to the CIA. Martin is a James Bond-like character fighting behind Nazi lines. Martin's loyalties are often in question and Dubin has great difficulty in ascertaining who, if anyone, is Martin's commanding officer. Dubin's dealings with Major Martin are further complicated by his companion Gita Lodz, a Mata Hari-like figure who is very willing to use her feminine guile to aid Martin in any manner she can. Lodz's relationship with both Martin and Dubin allow ORDINARY HEROES to take several unexpected turns.
Like many of his generation who went off to fight during World War II, Dubin ended the war a far different person than when the conflict began. Indeed, Dubin ended the war as three different men. He traveled to Europe as a desk-sitting attorney who initially spent his days processing court-martials only to end the war as a battle-scarred veteran. He is the young soldier who leaves America engaged to be married to the daughter of a prominent Kindle County family but instead returns home with a war bride, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. Finally, he is the young Lieutenant who sails the Atlantic unaware of his Jewish identity only to discover that he cannot ignore that part of his life because others will not allow it to be so.
There is always a refreshing experience when an artist attempts to perform contrary to past practice. Whether it is the opera singer who releases an album of contemporary music, a comedic actor who tries a dramatic role, or in this case, a writer who publishes a novel far different from his past writings, the changing style and behavior of such a considerable effort are interesting to observe. Clearly, ORDINARY HEROES establishes Scott Turow as more than a writer of courtroom fiction. This skillful writer has produced an absorbing novel by venturing outside the walls of a courtroom. Readers can only hope that Turow is willing to make that journey again in the future.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 13, 2011