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Scott Turow's 'Identical' has Greek myth proportions

Novelist Scott Turow's 'Identical' is a compulsively readable crime story about brothers, feuding families and a long-ago murder.

October 18, 2013|By Paula Woods
  • The cover of "Identical" and author Scott Turow.
The cover of "Identical" and author Scott Turow. (Grand Central Publishing;…)

Over the course of nine novels, Scott Turow's Kindle County has become one the best-known settings in American literature. While fictional locations are not uncommon in the crime genre — the city of Santa Teresa in Ross Macdonald's and, later, Sue Grafton's mysteries comes most readily to mind — Turow's character-driven legal thrillers are more aligned with the artistic vision of William Faulkner, whose novels and short stories are set in Yoknapatawpha County, Miss., assumed the weight of myth in telling the intertwined stories of its characters, both high and low.

Greek myth and ugly truths are entwined throughout Scott Turow's 10th novel, "Identical." In 1982, during a Greek New Year picnic at the estate of powerful businessman and likely gubernatorial candidate Zeus Kronon, his daughter Dita (short for Aphrodite) is brutally murdered.

Dita's boyfriend, Cass Gianis, a police cadet, immediately confesses to the crime, is convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years in a minimum-security prison. Cass' conviction is the latest installment in a long-running feud between the Kronon and the Gianis families, which has its origins in a disagreement over the lease of a commercial property.

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Cass' incarceration wrenches him from the Gianis family and is felt most keenly by his mother, Lidia, and twin brother, Paul, who was about to take a job as a deputy prosecuting attorney at the time of the crime. By 2008, Paul has moved beyond the family tragedy to achieve success in the law — as both a prosecuting and plaintiff's attorney — and in politics, most recently serving as majority leader in the state Senate.

Paul's current campaign for mayor of Kindle County is the capstone of a decade-long love affair with politics, causing him to reflect: "There was no other job with this kind of impact. You could invent the semiconductor or make a movie and change lives too … but in politics the effect was universal. Every person you passed on the street had a stake in what you did, and usually an opinion about it. The world … was, full of love and cruelty and indifference. But it could get better with less need, less violence, more opportunities."

Things haven't turned out so well for the Kronons. Zeus, his political ambitions cut short by his daughter's death, died five years after the murder from injuries sustained in a fall. Zeus' son, Herakles, has grown the business he inherited to become ZP Real Estate Investment Trust, a publicly traded company. Yet Hal, as he is known, "is trying to walk in his father's shoes in feet half his size," becoming along the way a bitter right-wing Republican who hates the Gianises as much for their politics as what they did to his family.

Once it is clear he can't prevent Cass' parole, Hal publicly accuses Paul of being involved in Dita's murder, as much as to derail his campaign as to exact an additional measure of revenge.

Hal's accusations and the lawsuit Paul files to silence them are at the heart of the legal proceedings in "Identical," but the courtroom battle takes a back seat to the exploration of the lives of characters on both sides of the aisle. In addition to the Kronons and Gianises are Evon Miller, a 50-ish retired FBI agent (last seen in 1999's "Personal Injuries") who now works in security for ZP, where she is trying to cope with Hal's wrath and the infidelity of her unstable lover, Heather; and Tim Brodie, an octogenarian who had originally investigated Dita Kronos' murder while consulting with the state police and now works on retainer to ZP.

Hal's vendetta against the Gianises propels these seasoned cops to investigate whether Paul was complicit in the crime and the evidence against Cass, which comes under suspicion in light of modern forensic science.

What they discover about that fateful night in 1982 and the events surrounding it make "Identical" a compulsively readable tale of love, guilt and revenge that may take its cues from the story of Pollux and Castor and other Greek myths but resonates even more strongly with the near-epic Kindle County narrative Turow has created over some three decades.

Even when "Identical's" many twists challenge the reader to figure out who's on first, it is Turow's deftly drawn characters — coping with advancing age, old grief and lost love — that linger in the mind.

Woods has written four mysteries in the Charlotte Justice series and edited several anthologies.

A novel

Scott Turow
Grand Central; 369 pages; $28

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