A failure of even basic geography: Testimony

A convoluted novel of wish-fulfillment, Testimony by Scott Turow follows a U.S. lawyer who is tasked with prosecuting a case of alleged mass murder before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Rather than a thriller following the ins and outs of the legal system, the book is more about a middle-aged man’s desire to sleep with younger women and shows a poor understanding of international justice. 

Bill ten Boom, an ex-United States Attorney for the fictional Kindle County, is tapped to prosecute the perpetrators who massacred an entire village of Roma refugees following the break up of the former Yugoslavia.

Despite the existence of an entire tribunal created by the United Nations to prosecute crimes committed during the Yugoslav Wars – International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which is also located in The Hague – this atrocity has landed before the ICC. 

Despite his credentials as a lawyer, Ten Boom spends most of the book traipsing through rural Bosnia to find evidence of the crime, which is suspiciously lacking substantiation except for the testimony of one survivor.

Neither the horrific crime in question nor the complicated legal arguments needed to bring war criminals to justice carry the plot, which is instead dominated first by Ten Boom sleeping with a lawyer in the case and, when that goes south, his landlord. 

Readers expect that thriller writers will take some leeway with the truth. No one really believes Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene had a child together, despite what is claimed in the blockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code. And legal proceedings are notoriously slow-moving and dry. But Testimony has no foundation in reality and wildly distorts the operation and role of the already misunderstood ICC. 

The setting of the book is split between the United States, Bosnia and The Hague, with the author making repeated errors about the Dutch city’s geography, scenery and history. There is, of course, a scene where our freshly landed main character watches the Dutch ice skate on the canals.

Turow is a lawyer turned writer who has published 13 legal thrillers to date, many of them best sellers (including this one) and several adapted into film or television shows. He worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Chicago where he prosecuted high-profile corruption cases and has no background in international criminal law. 

For anyone who is interested in learning more about how the book falls down from a legal perspective, the international justice podcast Asymmetrical Haircuts has read the book for its monthly book club and has a lot to say about how incorrect it is. 

You can buy the book at the American Book Center (but why would you?)

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