Twenty years have elapsed since Rusty Sabich stood trial for the murder of his colleague, Carolyn Polhemus, as detailed in Presumed Innocent. Following his acquittal, Rusty’s legal career again flourished — he is the Chief Justie of the Third District Appellate Court in Kindle Countyand and a candidate for a seat on the state Supreme Court. At the age of sixty, Rusty remains married to Barbara, although their marriage has been anything but peaceful or, at least for Rusty, satisfying. Following his trial, Rusty and Barbara separated but her ongoing emotional fragility and psychological instability forced Rusty to return to the marriage in order to protect Nat, who is about to graduate from law school. Married thirty-six years now, Barbara, a brilliant mathematician and professor, continues to struggle with bipolar disorder and depression.
As the story opens, Barbara is dead and Rusty has spent a full twenty-four hours in their home with her body before calling Nat with the news. He has failed to contact the authorities. It appears that Barbara committed suicide, but Rusty’s old nemesis, prosecutor Tommy Molto, is convinced by his chief deputy, Jim Brand, that there is more to Barbara’s death than the initial inquiry reveals. Molto has never fully recovered from the embarrassment of not convicting Rusty the first time around and is determined not to screw up again. Still, the opportunity to finally nail Rusty is tempting and he allows himself to be convinced that Rusty poisoned Barbara using her own medication.