“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Review: IDENTICAL by Scott Turow

Scott Turow was once described by Time magazine as ‘the bard of the litigious age’, but most of Identical (Mantle), his 10th novel, takes place outside of the courtroom. Indeed, as the story opens in 2008, it’s almost 25 years since Cassian Gianis was tried and convicted – after pleading guilty – for the murder of his then girlfriend, Dita Kronon. Cassian’s imminent release from prison coincides with an election campaign being waged by his identical twin brother Paul, formerly a successful lawyer and now a politician, who is ahead in the polls as he runs for the position of mayor. Paul has reckoned without Hal Kronon, however, Dita’s billionaire brother, who is convinced that Paul had a part to play in Dita’s death and is determined that Paul should be brought to justice.
  As the names suggest, Identical takes place in the Greek-American community that has established a significant presence in Turow’s recurring fictional setting of Kindle County, although Turow has one eye on a much older Greek culture. Hal’s father is called Zeus, and Tim Brodie, the private investigator Hal employs, has a particular fondness for reading Greek mythology. It is Brodie who amplifies the motif of identical twins that lies at the heart of the novel, specifically referencing the myth of Castor and Pollux, a story that in part provides the inspiration for the tragedy that subsequently engulfs the characters.
  A quirky bunch of characters they are, too. Tim Brodie is an unconventional private eye, an 83-year-old retiree bordering on senility who is still in mourning over the recent loss of his wife. Evon Miller, reprised from the novel Personal Injuries (1999), is a gay ex-FBI agent struggling to extricate herself from an emotionally destructive relationship. Paul Gianis, meanwhile, is that most unlikely of creations, a former lawyer and aspiring politician whose idealism still outweighs his pragmatism, a man whose faltering bid for power in 2008 is obliquely cross-referenced with the gathering momentum of Barack Obama’s campaign for presidential election.
  All told, it’s an absorbing thriller that boasts its fair share of twists and turns as the characters become increasingly entangled in a legal cat’s cradle that is further complicated by updated DNA identification techniques that weren’t available to the investigating team 25 years previously. Rooted in Greek mythology, the novel is an ambitious attempt to blend ancient and modern storytelling forms, in the process reminding us that human nature has changed far less in the intervening three thousand years than might have been hoped, particularly when it comes to our more venal instincts.
  Surprisingly, however, Identical is most effective when Turow turns from the public and the political to the private and the personal. A variety of expressions of love and loss are explored in considerable depth here, often in very moving and unsettling ways. The result is a novel that is utterly fascinated by character, and especially with how love can twist us into creatures unrecognisable even to ourselves when we seek to defend and protect those we love at any cost. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

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