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Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013 12:00 am

Fictional familiar territory

Turow’s new crime novel begins well

Identical, by Scott Turow, Grand Central Publishing. $16.80.
Chicago attorney Scott Turow strives to be an intellectual cut above his fellow courtroom fiction writers. His nine best-selling fiction novels have a literary quality that is lacking in many novels of this genre. The level of writing is not surprising given Turow’s continued practice of law as well as his public advocacy on important legal issues. Turow often ventures outside the fictional legal world to comment upon real-world contemporary legal issues. He has written an influential book opposing the death penalty as well as numerous essays and op-ed pieces for the New York Times, New Yorker, Washington Post and Vanity Fair.

Identical, Turow’s 10th novel, is loosely based upon the myth of Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Zeus. When Castor was killed, Pollux begged Zeus to allow his immorality to be shared with his brother so that the twins could remain together. Zeus allowed the request and the twins were transformed into the constellation Gemini. Turow’s twins are Cass and Paul Giannis, young Greek-American young men headed for success until a brutal murder changes their lives.

Another trademark in Turow’s novels is the fictional Kindle County setting for his writing. Anyone familiar with Illinois and Chicago political history will easily recognize the true venue. Identical uses as a cornerstone of its plot an unsolved crime that resonates in Illinois political history. In 1966, the daughter of U.S. Senate candidate Charles Percy was stabbed to death in the bedroom of her suburban Chicago home. Although theories surround the killing, no one has ever been charged in connection with the case. In Turow’s fictional world of Kindle County, the homicide victim is Athena “Dita” Kronon, the daughter of Zeus Kronon, the Republican candidate for governor. Cass Giannis, one of the twins chronicled in Identical, pleads guilty to the killing and is sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Twenty-five years later as Cass is scheduled to be paroled from prison, twin brother Paul, a successful attorney, state senator and candidate for mayor, is facing the fallout from the killing. Dita’s brother, Hal Kronon, a successful real estate businessman, wants Paul to pay for the sins of his twin. He unleashes a campaign to destroy Paul by alleging that he was involved in the murder. Paul fights back the only way he can, by suing Hal for defamation. The courtroom scenes are outstanding Turow writing. The criminal law entanglement with a civil case allows Turow to write from a position of knowledge and expertise, making his writing vivid as well as topical. The combination of law and politics gives Scott Turow the opportunity to address some of the interesting issues present in the modern political world.

Identical is primarily written through the eyes of Tim Brodie, now a private investigator for the Kronons, but one of the original police officers involved in the investigation of the homicide. For 25 years Brodie had doubts about how the crime was handled. Given the opportunity to reinvestigate the crime, he finds new information regarding many of his long unanswered questions. The modernization of crime-solving techniques is a fertile field for Turow and readers will learn how modern investigations make use of technological advances in science and law.

All of this speaks to the strength of Identical. For nearly 300 pages, readers will find themselves following a mystery of a murder whodunit that is wonderful to read. Then it all comes crashing down. I will not spoil the ending for readers, I will only observe that what begins as a literary story based upon Greek mythology ends in a fashion more appropriate for a Disney film. It simply does not hold up even to the loose “willing suspension of disbelief” standards of most fictional novels. But please do not take my word for it. There is quite a bit of good writing, interesting characters and historical references to make Identical well worth reading. I just wish Scott Turow had given us a better ending. We deserved it.

Stuart Shiffman served 22 years as an Illinois trial court judge. He presently serves as an adjunct professor at Illinois State University and is of counsel to the law firm of Feldman Wasser in Springfield.
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