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Reviews of Scott Turow's latest legal thriller and of "Our Fathers," a quietly affecting novel by Andrew O'Hagan

Liable to Engage

In "Personal Injuries" (Farrar Straus & Giroux, $27), author Scott Turow returns again to the fictional Kindle County, where his bestseller "Presumed Innocent" was set, for a thick and meaty story that is as much character study as it is legal fiction.

"Personal Injuries" is all Robbie Feaver's story. Feaver — he insists it's pronounced "Favor," although he'll answer to "Fever" if you have a check in your hand — is a rare protagonist: He's a scoundrel with a strong but idiosyncratic sense of morality.

For years, he's been bribing local judges, all the while keeping his activities secret from Mort Dinnerstein, his childhood friend and longtime law partner. Now U.S. Attorney Stan Sennett has uncovered Feaver's disreputable activities and threatens to throw him in jail unless he agrees to turn state's evidence. For counsel, Feaver turns to the story's narrator, the aptly named attorney George Mason.

Feaver's main problem with turning against his co-conspirators is that Brendan Tuohey, the presiding judge and one of the four Feaver has been paying off, is his partner's uncle. He's also a powerfully bad man who'd have Feaver killed if he got wind of what was going down.

Sennett brings in a slew of FBI agents to assist in the sting operation, including Evon Miller — an undercover agent, former Olympic athlete and closeted lesbian — to pose as Feaver's paralegal.

Despite its intriguing beginning and a powerhouse ending, there are those who will complain that "Personal Injuries" bogs down in the middle — and there is some truth to that. Nevertheless, for those interested in probing far beneath the surface of one of the most intensely drawn characters since "Presumed Innocent," the heavy slogging is well worth it.

Don Dale

If legal problems and FBI sting operations are not your cup of tea, you might enjoy "Our Fathers" by Andrew O'Hagan (Harcourt Brace, $23). O'Hagan, a Scottish writer, here spends nearly 300 pages describing the experience of a young man who returns from England to Scotland to be with his grandfather as he dies. The grandfather's lifetime obsession — and his work — has been to build high-rise apartments for his countrymen, who have suffered from terrible housing. Now the day of his high-rise is over, and grandson Jamie is, ironically, a member of a demolition team that is tearing down the buildings his grandfather planned and constructed.

There is almost no action in this fine novel, but O'Hagan is a poet with words, and he knows how to describe the deepest of feelings. Witness Jamie's description of his father whom he hated: "My father took no pleasure in buying things for my mother and me. There was nothing in it for him. He was generous in the pub; he believed in that sort of kindness, where near-anonymous men could think him free, and think him great. He didn't care if his family thought him great. He didn't want that. His wife and his child were his mother and father; a constant drain on his sense of himself, a pain in the arse, a bundle of bills, a wrongful call to responsible action."

When O'Hagan ends this book his protagonist knows, as do we, much more clearly who he is.

"Our Fathers" was a finalist for England's 1999 Booker Prize. It didn't win, but it certainly deserved its spot among the finalists.

Rozanne Epps

Heads-Up: Bishop John S. Spong has a new book due from Harpers on Feb. 1. "Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love & Equality" is his autobiography and has, he tells us, three chapters about Richmond where he spent seven years (1969-1976) as rector of St. Paul's Episcopal

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