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IDENTICAL by Scott Turow: Book Review

Scott Turow’s latest novel, Identical, is as exciting a thriller as his debut mystery Presumed Innocent, and that’s saying a good deal.

Identical opens in an unidentified midwestern city with a substantial Greek-American population.  The year is 1982, and multimillionaire Zeus Kronon is holding his annual picnic on the vast grounds of his home.  Virtually the entire congregation of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church is there to celebrate the ecclesiastical New Year, including twin brothers Cass and Paul Gianis; their mother Lidia; Zeus and his wife Hermione; their daughter Dita; their son Hal; Zeus’s sister Teri, who is Lidia’s best friend; Paul’s girlfriend Georgia; and Sophia, a neighborhood girl now in medical school.  It’s quite a cast of characters.

Like a Greek tragedy, strands are woven and woven again, until it’s hard to tell where relationships begin and end.  Cass and Paul seem almost to inhabit one mind, they are so close.  Dita, Cass’s girlfriend, is disliked by all of his family, particularly his mother.  Lidia hasn’t spoken to Zeus in more than twenty years, leaving her sons to wonder why she has agreed to attend this party.  And Paul, whom everyone thought was going to get engaged to Georgia, is suddenly smitten by Sophia.

After the party ends and the guests disperse, Dita is in her room waiting for Cass.  When morning comes, Dita’s bloodied body is discovered by her parents.  Cass admits to the murder, never giving a motive for the slaying, and spends the next twenty-five years in prison.

Twenty-five years later, Cass is applying for early release from prison.  Hal, who as Zeus’s only surviving child has inherited his father’s corporate empire, is appearing before the parole board to prevent this.  When the board approves Cass’ release, Hal orchestrates a crusade against Paul and his recently launched mayoral campaign, saying that Paul had lied under oath at the trial about his twin’s whereabouts the night of the murder and therefore doesn’t deserve to be mayor.

Using his vast wealth and his undying anger at both Cass and Paul, Hal orders his security chief and a former city detective to investigate what really happened the night of his sister’s murder.  He’s never had any doubt that Cass is guilty, but now he’s determined to discover Paul’s involvement as well.  With the unlimited resources at his command, he sets out to find what the Gianis twins have been hiding for over two decades.

Not only are all the characters extremely well drawn, the picture of the close-knit Greek-American community is compelling.  Like many other first or second generation ethnic groups, the Greek-Americans in Identical have formed their own community within the larger city.  Disputes brought over from the old country still resonate within families, sometimes even without the children or grandchildren of the immigrants knowing the reason for the original disagreement.  And the transliterated Greek comments that Turow has inserted at various point in the novel somehow bring the reader closer to the people in the book.

As expected of the author of eleven previous books, including Presumed Innocent and Reversible Errors, Identical is a page-turner, a mystery that will keep you engrossed until the last page.

You can read more about Scott Turow at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads blog at her web site.




BLUE MONDAY by Nicci French: Book Review

“Wow” is the only word with which to begin a review of Blue Monday.  It expresses my thoughts about every part of the novel–the plot, the characters, the setting.

Two sisters are walking home from school in 1987.  The nine-year-old girl wants to get to the neighborhood candy store quickly and is annoyed that the younger one, age five, is loitering and holding her back.  Finally, the older girl’s desire for candy gets too strong, and she runs ahead to start looking at the display cases and choosing her treats.  And then, two minutes later when she looks around, her sister is gone.

Skip ahead to the present and meet Frieda Klein, a well-regarded, thirty-something psychiatrist.  A new patient is brought to Frieda at the clinic where she works.  Alan Dekker had originally been referred to another psychiatrist, but that referral didn’t work out well.  It went so badly, in fact, that Alan is thinking of making an official complaint.  Thus the patient is brought to Frieda in hopes she can work with him and possibly dissuade him from reporting the first doctor.

Alan at first seems to be in the middle of a mid-life crisis, although he’s a bit young for that, but it gradually comes out that he’s having a type of panic attack.  He and his wife want children, but lately he has been unable to perform sexually and refuses to consider adoption.  He wants a child of his own, he says, both to his wife and Frieda.

He’s been dreaming about this child and describes the child and his dream in detail:  it will be a boy, five years old, with red hair like his, and he’s teaching him to play football.  He admits to Frieda that he’s had similar attacks and dreams in the past, when he was in his early twenties, but that time his dreams involved a young girl.  Alan doesn’t know why he’s having these attacks and dreams again, more than twenty years later, but they are definitely impacting his life and his relationship with his wife.

And then, several days after Alan discusses his dream with Frieda, a five-year-old boy is snatched from in front of his school in an almost exact repeat of the abduction of the five-year-old girl twenty-two years earlier.  And Frieda isn’t sure what to make of Alan and his dream.

This powerful novel is the first in a series featuring Frieda Klein.  We’re given little information about her.  She’s single, never been married, and for some reason is estranged from her birth family.  Her only contact with relatives is with her neurotic sister-in-law Olivia whose husband, Frieda’s brother, has left her for a much younger woman, and her niece Chloe who has been cutting herself for years.

Blue Monday is a powerful novel, one that will have your heart racing.  All the characters have deep layers, some of which are peeled off one by one, but there are always some remaining.  The ending has multiple surprises, but they all make sense.

Nicci French is the pseudonym of Sean French and Nicci Gerrard, an English husband and wife writing team.  The second book in the Frieda Klein series has just been released in the United States, and you may be sure I’ll be reading it before the year ends.

You can read more about the Nicci French collaboration on their web site.

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