A beautiful, aggressively sexual young woman is murdered. Her boyfriend pleads guilty and serves 25 years for the crime. Now the boyfriend's identical twin brother is running for mayor, and the dead girl's brother is pressing for new DNA evidence. Are both twins guilty? Innocent? Neither?
So begins "Identical," the latest mystery from Scott Turow.
The book revolves around the Gianis and Kronon families. Zeus Kronon, patriarch of the Kronons, is a rich and movie-star handsome man. His daughter, Dita, is a petulant 24 and has been sleeping with Cass Gianis. His identical twin, Paul, looks set to marry Georgia, but a chance meeting with another woman at a Kronon family party will kick Georgia to the curb for all time.
The day after the Kronon family party, Dita is found dead in her bed. Apparently, someone pounded her head against the headboard until she died, yet she seems never to have fought back or cried out, although she did touch the blood on her head with a finger. Cass is charged with murder.
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Upon Cass' release, Hal -- Dita's brother -- launches a private investigation to prove that Paul was involved in the murder. Paul is now running for mayor and can't afford the negative publicity from multimillionaire Hal.
Mr. Turow has been writing lawyer-driven mysteries in fictional Midwestern Kindle County since 1987. That year, you couldn't enter a D.C. Metro car without seeing row upon row of commuters reading "Presumed Innocent," Mr. Turow's debut novel. But now Kindle County is wearing a little thin. A couple of Mr. Turow's old characters -- Sandy Stern and Raymond Horgan -- come onstage to take their bows, then exit quickly. Neither is central to the plot.
In leaving the courtroom behind, Mr. Turow, a practicing lawyer and former federal prosecutor, abandons what he knows best. His suspects are now a large family of Greek-Americans, and his relative lack of knowledge about this culture shows.
The characters seem overly emotional and shallow. People who are adversaries seem much too chummy. People who are chummy seem much too adversarial. Because Mr. Turow is trying to write an allegory based in Greek myth, many of the Greek characters have mythical names -- Herakles, Zeus, Aphrodite and even a pet dog named Cerberus.
Although these names may be in use in Greece, having so many mythical names among so few people seems forced. Plus, the Greek-American milieu lacks the rich observations that characterize Mr. Turow's descriptions of lawyers, judges and legal maneuvering.
Hal's private investigators propel the story, and they seem to have an unlikely fondness for one another. The younger, who's head of security for the Kronan business, is a woman with a semi-secret past. She's a farm girl who became an Olympic field hockey player, went into the FBI, changed her name to Evon Miller and now is settling into middle age with a spoiled model of a girlfriend.
The other investigator, Tim Brodie, is an 81-year-old former police detective who comforts Evon during her relationship woes and gives her romantic advice. The two of them seem determined to find the truth, in spite of the fact that their boss only wants to hear about the twins' guilt.
The book contains several well-sprung surprises. Unfortunately, none is pivotal to solving the murder. The murder, it turns out, is not so mysterious after all. And frankly, the way in which it unfolded seems unlikely at best.
Mr. Turow's strong suit as a writer is his talent for painting pictures with a modicum of words. But he lavishes this treatment on every character, major or minor, so that the reader's head is cluttered with details.
In short, this mystery has a few satisfying turns and grand surprises. But Mr. Turow is capable of better. Maybe next time he'll take us back to Kindle County's political and legal world.
Laura Malt Schneiderman: firstname.lastname@example.org.