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Bookshelf: Resumed 'Innocent,' a 'Seaworthy' woman

Uh-oh. Another of Rusty Sabich's women has turned up dead. Readers of 1987's "Presumed Innocent" will recall what happened last time: When his ex-lover and fellow prosecutor Carolyn Polhemus was found murdered in her apartment, Rusty became the prime suspect and the main character in Scott Turow's stunning debut novel.

Now, 20-odd years later, Rusty is the chief judge of Kindle County's Third District Appellate Court, and the corpse belongs to his wife, Barbara, a brilliant but unbalanced woman with serious anger-management issues. It's an apparent suicide, but apparent to whom? Most of Kindle County already thinks Rusty murdered Carolyn and escaped justice through connections and technicalities. Only Rusty and readers of "Presumed Innocent" know what really happened.

Thus this brilliant sequel, "Innocent" (Hachette Audio, 14 CDs, $39.98), gallops along pulling two reins of suspense: Who killed Barbara, and will the truth about Carolyn's murder ever come out?

"Innocent" is an indecently good novel, and the kind of audiobook that makes you want to plan a long, solo car trip. Like Ruth Rendell (detective fiction) or Larry McMurtry (Westerns), Turow is a genre writer who transcends his genre.

His greatest gift is for characterization. Even the novel's third-tier characters are indelibly drawn, and the three men who occupy center stage are as complex as any fictional personages I know. Sandy Stern, the courtly star of 1990's "The Burden of Proof," is once again pressed into service as Rusty's defense counsel and once again offers a model of legal brilliance and cultivation - made all the more poignant by his deteriorating health.

Tommy Molto, who prosecuted Rusty at his last murder trial, has become more sympathetic with age. He's a smart and talented guy with the aspect of a schlemiel, but his growing self-awareness has bestowed on him a measure of honor.

Everyone here is older and wiser. Well, Rusty Sabich isn't that much wiser, or why would he get involved in another extramarital affair with a colleague? The fallout from the last affair wasn't bad enough? Such is Turow's skill that Rusty's exceedingly bad decision seems inevitable.

Not only have Turow's characters matured, but so has forensic science, and some of the evidence that proved mute at Rusty's first trial can potentially speak volumes at the new one, making this not only a welcome sequel but an obligatory one.

At first I was put off by Edward Herrmann's narration, skilled as it was. Ever since I saw him as FDR in the 1976 TV movie "Eleanor and Franklin," Herrmann has seemed the embodiment of bow-tied asexuality, and this book - even more than usual with Turow - is suffused with sexual tension. But after a while I just relaxed and imagined Harrison Ford.

Linda Greenlaw's "Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns to the Sea" (Brilliance Audio, six CDs, $24.99) provides welcome relief from the current trend in nonfiction wherein the author creates some arbitrary 12-month challenge for herself and then writes about it, as in "My Year of Reading the Bible," or "My Year of Eating Steak," or "My Year of Not Using Electricity," or - and I'm waiting for this one - "My Year of Writing This Book."

Greenlaw needn't resort to such artifice: She is America's only female swordfishing captain, and that makes for some interesting nonfiction right there. Greenlaw was made famous by her appearance in Sebastian Junger's 1997 book, "The Perfect Storm," as well as its film adaptation, in which she had the good fortune to be played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Soon after Greenlaw published her own book, "The Hungry Ocean," she gave up swordfishing for the more shorebound pursuit of lobster fishing. She wrote five other books and adopted a child.

"Seaworthy" chronicles her return to swordfishing in the fall of 2008. Can she still hack it? That's what Greenlaw wonders as the Seahawk heads out to fish Georges Bank in the North Atlantic. In addition to her lucid explanation of how exactly one goes about catching swordfish and her recounting the many disasters she and her crew endure - from a malfunctioning ice machine to tangles with Canadian law enforcement - the 47-year-old captain also ponders the relative merits of strength versus experience, gut instinct versus careful deliberation.

Somehow, she manages to be self-reflective without being self-absorbed, surveying her own emotions and insecurities as dispassionately as she reads her nautical instruments. The author's own rough and forthright narration lends the audio book a depth that I found lacking in the print edition.

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