‘Identical’ freshens up the murder-mystery genre

Richard Harris

By A Contributor

Lawyer and best-selling author Scott Turow has done it again. His latest mystery-thriller has some of the most unexpected and surprising, yet still believable, plot twists I have ever encountered in the hundreds of murder mysteries I have read.

In this book Turow explores the almost mystical connection of identical twins. Most of the book is set over several months in 2008, with periodic flashbacks to the day of a murder in 1982. As the contemporary story opens, forty-something Cass Gianis is about to be released from prison after serving 25 years for the murder of his former girl friend Dita Kronon, a crime to which he had confessed. His identical twin brother Paul is a prominent attorney currently engaged in a tight political race. This effort is seriously thwarted by Dita’s brother Hal Kronon, a longstanding enemy of the Gianis family from their growing up in the Greek-American community in Turow’s fictional Kindle County, somewhere in the upper Midwest. Hal makes public statements claiming that Paul had some part in Dita’s death. Paul’s defamation suit in response ensures that this feud will remain a very public, protracted, and bitter dispute for some time.

Although the story is not told exclusively from a single character’s point of view, much of it comes through the eyes of retired investigator Tim Brodie and Hal’s security associate Evon Miller. Tim and Evon, the grieving older widower and the recently separated lesbian ex-Mormon, make an odd but somehow effective team. Although formally working for the Kronons, they develop considerably sympathy for the Gianises as well and both become increasingly driven to discover the truth behind Dita’s murder. They eventually unearth the real story of her death, as well as some other amazing plot twists that the reader is unlikely to see coming. For most of the book they voice the concern that “This just doesn’t add up,” and the reader feels the same way. Turow brilliantly weaves an intricate plot that does all “make sense” in fairly convincing, if somewhat improbable, fashion.

The rivalry of these two Greek-American families goes back many years, if not generations, and they turn out to be connected in many surprising ways. In the interim between the 1982 murder and the 2008 story, the narcissistic patriarch Zeus Kronon had died in rather mysterious circumstances during a visit to Greece, while his unmarried sister Teri and the Gianis twins’ mother Lidia survive to 2008 and plan important roles in the story.

Many odd questions remain, however. Had Dita decided not to marry Cass, or had he decided not to marry her? How far would a parent go to prevent a son from what they thought was an unwise marriage? Why did Cass confess so quickly to the crime? How did a convicted murderer manage to spend 25 years in a minimum-security facility? Why did the Kronons and Gianises hate each other so much? Were the twin brothers extremely close or deeply resentful rivals? Are identical twins’ fingerprints and DNA completely identical or just very similar?

As a lawyer, Turow typically has considerably courtroom drama in his novels, though there is very little of that in this book.

There are, however, many legal proceedings, motions, and evidentiary decisions that move the plot along. Much has changed in the technology of DNA, fingerprinting, and other matters while Cass was in prison.

The legal and scientific technicalities are never a burden to the lay reader, however, but in fact make the story all the more compelling, since Turow clearly knows what he is talking about in these matters.

The surprising resolution would have been much less satisfying if the reader had been left to wonder if that ever really could have happened.

Scott Turow is well-known as the author of “Innocent,” “Presumed Innocent,” “The Burden of Proof,” “Reversible Errors,” “Personal Injuries,” and other novels. Having read several, though not all, of these, I believe I enjoyed “Identical” the most. It will keep you guessing and wondering right until the end.

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